Migraine headaches

Migraine Symptoms

What is Migraine?

Migraines are more than just bad headaches. Here is what you need to know about migraine headaches. 

Table of Contents

What are Migraine Headaches?

Migraine headaches are a neurological disease that results in a throbbing, pulsing headache that occurs on one side of the head.1 They can be a debilitating condition that sometimes leaves sufferers bedridden for days. Migraines can affect people at all stages of life, including children and teenagers. 

What Is Migraine Aura?

A migraine aura can happen either before a migraine hits or with the migraine.1 Typically, it presents with visual symptoms, but it can also cause other disturbances. 

Migraine vs. Headache

Migraines are not just bad headaches, as several differences separate a migraine from a headache, including additional, debilitating symptoms. The causes of migraines and headaches are also distinctly different. Although both issues can include head pain, migraines are a neurological disease that can cause further symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and increased sensitivity.2

 

Types of Headaches

Just a few of the types of headaches include:

 

  • Tension-type: As one of the most common types of headaches, tension headaches are often triggered by factors such as poor sleep, stress, muscle strain, and anxiety. It typically presents as pain behind the eyes and in the back and neck.2
  • Cluster headaches: These painful headaches tend to occur in clusters for anywhere from days to months, with a month or more of pain-free periods. These headaches are triggered by the dilation of blood vessels that pressure the trigeminal nerve. Some experts believe irregularities in the hypothalamus might cause it.2
  • Hemicrania: This type is a one-sided, daily headache without a cause. Other symptoms can include nausea, sensitivity to light, watery eyes, and congestion.

On the other hand, migraines are a primary disorder where a headache is one of many  symptoms. 

Migraine Triggers

There are several triggers for migraines, and they vary from person to person. Some common triggers to migraine symptoms may include:3

 

  • Hormonal changes in women, such as pregnancy, menopause, or around menstrual periods
  • Drinks, especially coffee and alcohol
  • Stress, either work or personal
  • Weather changes or barometric pressure, such as in an airplane
  • Foods, such as processed foods and aged cheeses, as well as skipping meals
  • Food additives, such as MSG and aspartame, that are found in many processed foods
  • Sleep variations, either too much or too little
  • Medications, including oral contraceptives and vasodilators
  • Sensory stimuli, such as bright or flashing lights, strong smells, or loud noises
  • Physical factors, such as intense exercise  

Migraine Causes

Although the causes of migraines are not completely understood, experts believe that both genetics and environmental causes play in the development of migraines. Some key risk factors for migraines include:

 

  • Age: Typically, migraine symptoms start during adolescence and continue in intensity until your 30s. From there, they begin to reduce in severity and frequency.
  • Sex. Migraines are more common in women. Women are anywhere from two to three times more likely to get migraines than women.4
  • Family history: There does seem to be some genetic component to migraine headaches. Those with family members who get migraines are more likely to get migraines themselves. More than half of those who have migraines have a family member that does as well.5   

Common Symptoms of Migraine

Migraine symptoms typically occur in four phases: prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome. Each stage has its own distinctive set of symptoms that attack the individual suffering from this condition. 

Prodrome Symptoms

The prodrome stage occurs in the days before a migraine hits. It has subtle symptoms that warn a migrate may be coming:6

  • Food cravings
  • Mood changes
  • Neck stiffness
  • Increased urination
  • Frequent yawning
  • Fluid retention 

Migraine Aura Symptoms

A migraine aura can happen before or during a migraine headache. Typically, symptoms occur gradually and build over several minutes. Symptoms of a migraine aura can last as long as an hour before dissipating:6

  • Visual phenomena, for example, bright spots, flashes of light, or visions of shapes.
  • Pins and needles sensations
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Numbness or weakness 

Migraine Attach Symptoms

A migraine attack can last anywhere from four up to seventy-two hours. These attacks vary from person to person. Some people might rarely experience them, while others have them several times a month. Symptoms of a migraine include:6

  • Pain on one or both sides of the head
  • Sensitivity to sounds, light, and even touch and small
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain that throbs or pulses 

Postdrome Symptoms

After the migraine, many are confused, washed out, or drained. Others report that they feel exhilarated once the attack passes. However, sudden movements can briefly bring back the migraine pain.

Types of Treatment 

Science and medicine have innovated new treatments for migraines to provide hope for sufferers. 

Home Remedies

There are lifestyle changes that can help prevent and soothe migraine symptoms. Laying down in a dark and quiet room and placing a cool cloth or ice pack wrapped in a towel on your head can help bring some relief. Drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated can also help with migraine symptoms.

 

Migraines can be triggered by stress, so relaxation techniques can provide powerful support, such as meditation or finding a hobby you enjoy. Regular, moderate exercise can also reduce tension and maintain a healthy weight to help prevent migraines. Swimming, cycling, and walking with a slow warm-up period are exercises to consider with doctor approval.

 

Regular sleeping and eating routines are also a way to prevent severe migraine headaches. Avoid over-or under-sleeping and following set times to sleep and wake can help. Additionally, regular meals at the same time each day can help prevent sudden blood sugar fluctuations that can contribute to migraines. 

Biofeedback

Stress can be a trigger for those who frequently experience severe migraines. Biofeedback is a form of Neurotherapy that can be a powerful tool for relaxation training. A session involves using equipment to monitor body functions while a practitioner offers strategies to change how your body function 

Acute Treatments

Over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers can bring temporary relief to migraines. However, taking medication for too long can have serious side effects, including headaches caused by medication overuse, ulcers, and gastrointestinal tract bleeds.

 

The prescription Triptan can help block pain pathways in the brain as a migraine treatment. Some other migraine treatment medications that can bring immediate relief include dihydroergotamine and Lasmiditan.

 

Anti-nausea medication, such as Reglan and Compro, can also help relieve the gastrointestinal symptoms that sometimes accompany severe migraines. 

Preventative Treatment

While not always possible, avoiding triggers is a powerful way to prevent migraine headaches from occurring.

 

Medication can also help treat chronic migraines. Some medicines that a doctor might prescribe to prevent severe migraines include:7

 

  • Antidepressants
  • Blood-pressure lowering medications
  • Botox
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • CGRP monoclonal antibodies.

If you are experiencing migraines, speak with a health practitioner for help finding treatment.