Migraine Headaches

What Are Migraine Headaches​?

Migraine headaches are headaches that tend to recur in an individual, causing moderate to severe pain. The pain is often described as throbbing or pulsing and usually begins on one side of the head. Migraine headaches are worsened by physical activity, light, sound, or physical movement. The pain typically lasts from 4 hours up to 3 days. The person experiencing a migraine headache may be sensitive to light, sound, and even smell. He or she may also experience nausea and/or vomiting.

What Are The Causes Of A Migraine​?

Many people have specific triggers that initiate their migraines. Some of the most common triggers include:

  • Salty foods, processed foods, and aged cheeses
  • Skipping meals
  • Certain food additives, especially monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Caffeine
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, and other sensory stimuli
  • Hormonal changes in women caused by menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause
  • Mental and physical stress
  • Some medications, especially oral contraceptives and vasodilators prescribed for high blood pressure and heart failure

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of A Migraine?

Migraine symptoms often occur in four stages, although not everyone who has migraines will experience all of the stages. Each stage is associated with certain symptoms. The stages of a migraine are called:

  • Prodrome
  • Aura
  • Attack
  • Post-Drome

 

The Prodrome Stage

The symptoms are subtle, but they can provide a warning of the impending attack. Common symptoms during the prodrome phase include:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Cravings
  • Constipation
  • Yawning more than usual
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in mood

 

The Aura Stage

While some people experience this stage, most do not. If you experience the aura stage, you can expect symptoms such as:

  • Sensitivity to noises
  • Vision loss
  • Muscle weakness on one side of your face or body
  • Trouble speaking
  • Muscle spasms
  • Visual phenomena like seeing flashes or shapes

 

The Attack Stage

The most troubling and intense migraine symptoms usually occur during the attack phase. During the attack phase, you may experience:

  • An intense pain on one or both sides of your head
  • Throbbing or pulsing pain
  • Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to lights, sounds, or smells
  • Lightheadedness that can lead to fainting
  • Migraine symptoms can last anywhere from four to 72 hours.

 

The Post-Drome Stage

After a migraine attack, you may experience a post-drome phase for about 24 hours. During this phase, you can expect to feel:

  • Confused
  • Dizzy
  • Moody
  • Weak
  • Sensitive to lights and sounds

What Are The Risk Factors Of A Migraine?

Migraines are often more intense and frequent than typical headaches. Genetic factors seem to play a role in who gets migraines. If you have a family history of the headache disorder, then you have a higher risk of experiencing migraines.

How Are Migraine Headaches Diagnosed?

To make the diagnosis of migraine, your doctor will conduct a thorough review of your medical history. In addition, he or she will ask you to:

  • Describe your headache symptoms
  • Describe the type and location of your pain
  • Tell how often you get migraine headaches
  • Talk about the activities or the situations that may have brought on the migraine
  • Discuss what medications you take to relieve the pain and how often you take them
  • Tell how you felt before, during, and after the headache

Your doctor may also order blood tests and imaging tests (such as a CT scan or MRI) to make sure there are no other causes for your headache. An electroencephalogram (EEG) may be ordered to rule out seizures.

What Are The Possible Treatments For Migraine Headaches?

Doctors at Medical Offices of Manhattan use a variety of medications to treat migraines. The treatment that works best for you will depend on several factors. Some of the most popular treatment options include:

  • Preventative medications like beta blockers, antidepressants, Botox, anti-seizure drugs and anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin
  • Triptans that constrict blood vessels and block the brain’s pain pathways
  • Anti-nausea medications that help prevent vomiting up other drugs
  • Opioids for people with intense migraines that don’t respond to other treatments

Other migraine management methods include:

  • Rest in a dark, quiet, and cool room.
  • Apply a cold compress or washcloth to your forehead or behind your neck.
  • Massage your scalp gently by applying circular motion pressure to your temples.
  • Keep yourself in a calm state; meditate; start biofeedback methods (biofeedback training helps you recognize stressful situations that trigger migraines so you can control these situations and stop the attack before it becomes full-blown).

Other drug and non-drug treatments:

  • Botulinum toxin type A may help reduce the number of migraine attacks.
  • Vitamins and minerals, including riboflavin or magnesium, may be helpful.
  • Herbal products, including feverfew and butterbur, have been studied for the treatment of migraine headaches.
  • Ask your doctor about the benefits and/or precautions before taking any of these products.

Are There Preventative Steps Or Measures To Avoid A Migraine?

There is no cure for migraine headaches. However, you can take an active role in reducing how often migraines occur and their severity by following these tips.

  • Keep a migraine diary. Note down the foods and triggers that may have led to the development of your migraine. Make changes in your diet and avoid known triggers accordingly.
  • Get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Turn off half the lights in your home to help induce a tired sensation at least an hour before bed.
  • Eat at regular intervals; do not skip meals.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Learn techniques to control stress such as meditation, yoga, relaxation training, or mindful breathing.
  • Take medications as directed by your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor about hormone therapy if your migraine is thought to be linked to your menstrual cycle.

Consider trying a transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation device. This battery-powered electrical stimulator device is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of migraines. The device, worn like a headband, emits electrical charges through the forehead. The charge stimulates the nerve that transmits some of the pain experienced in migraine.

What Are The Risks If Migraine Headaches​ Are Left Untreated?

If left untreated, the headache will become moderate to severe. The pain can shift from one side of the head to the other, or it can affect the front of the head or feel like it’s affecting the whole head. Most migraines last about 4 hours, although severe ones can last much longer and even become daily, they can lead to negative effects on daily life if left untreated.

Are There Other Related Conditions To Migraine Headaches?

For many patients, migraine is associated with other illnesses such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stroke
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypertension

Key Takeaways

Migraine headaches that tend to recur in an individual, causing moderate to severe pain. The pain is often described as throbbing or pulsing and usually begins on one side of the head. Migraine headaches are worsened by physical activity, light, sound, or physical movement. The pain typically lasts from 4 hours up to 3 days. The person experiencing a migraine headache may be sensitive to light, sound, and even smell. He or she may also experience nausea and/or vomiting.

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