A migraine is an inherited neurological disorder that is characterized by bursts of activity in specific areas of the brain. It is an intensified version of a headache with accompanying side effects. The intense throbbing and pulsing sensation in one area of the head can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light, sound and movement.
36 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, which is approximately 12% of the population. More alarming than that, women suffer from migraine attacks 3 times more frequently than men according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The severity and frequency of migraines, alongside sensitivity and triggers, differ per migraine and individual. Each migraine may have a different impact on the body’s functionality. Migraines may also include visual aura, where vision will become blurry, jagged and may partially disappear for a short time. It’s reported that 20-30% of individuals who suffer from migraines have aura migraines. Debilitating migraines can take place as well, where parts of the body do not function to full capacity.
The University of California San Francisco Medical Center (UCSFMC) lists the following as symptoms of migraine headaches:
- Abnormal body sensations, such as tingling, numbing or prickling
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Nausea and vomiting
- Scalp tenderness
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Throbbing or pounding pain, often on one side of the head
- Visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or blind spots in your vision
- Worsening of pain with movement
Although the cause of migraines is undefined, outside factors and genetics play a key role. As previously stated, the intensity of a migraine will vary per individual, and the cause of the attack will as well. Migraines are most often hereditary; if you experience migraines it is likely that a family member suffers from them too. But although your mother or brother may experience migraines, you may have different triggers for the attacks. Common migraine triggers include:
- Hormonal change in women
- Foods and food additives
- Alcoholic drinks
- Sensory stimuli
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Physical factors
- Changes in environment
At a younger age, boys are more likely to experience migraines. However, once puberty happens this prevalence decreases, whereas girls’ prevalence increases after puberty. Menstruation cycles tend to surround many migraine attacks for women, studies show. Estrogen can be a main culprit in difficulty of migraine treatments as well. As you age, migraines may subside.
Ask the doctor
It’s important to remember, any ongoing concern should be discussed with your doctor. Before meeting with your doctor it is best to prepare. You will likely be asked questions about the severity, frequency and duration of the headaches. The Mayo Clinic recommends keeping a diary and tracking occurrences. Note when the headache begins, how long it lasts, foods you ate, and how you may have found relief. Prepare your own list and ask the doctor questions too. Here is the list of questions to ask your doctor:
- What is likely triggering my migraine headaches?
- Are there other possible causes for my symptoms?
- Is this chronic or temporary?
- Are there lifestyle changes that I may need to make?
- What is the best course of action to eliminate or ease my pain?
- Is my current medication effecting my migraines? (If applicable)
At this point you can work together to find the best care, which can be a wide array of solutions.
How to cope when a migraine strikes
Trying different treatment plans will help an individual fight back against a migraine attack. Typically, pain relievers are recommended as initial treatment such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin. Once you feel a migraine coming on, promptly take the drug for best results. This will help subdue discomfort but may not always eliminate it. Prescription drugs may be prescribed by a doctor for additional relief. Additionally, once a migraine strikes, it’s best to limit actions if possible. The sensitivity to factors like light, sound and movement will depend on the person. If applicable, remove yourself from harsh lights, sounds or movements; this may help prevent worsening the pain.
Home remedies that can sometimes help with migraine management include ice baths submerging the lower half of your body in order to release pressure, applying essential oils to your temples or even simply downing a cup of caffeine. Rest and relaxation in darkness and chiropractic care can also be used in combination with any prescribed medicines.
Migraines cannot be cured, but doctors will work with you to manage the condition. It is best to communicate with your doctor on what treatment plans will be the right fit for you. This may include medicine and a change in action at the time of a migraine. Any drastic change in migraines should be monitored, and continual communication with medical expertise can be key in fighting migraine attacks.