Migraine headaches are a result of changes within the brain itself. It results in severe headache pain, often associated with sensitivity to smells, sounds, or exposure to light.
Typical symptoms of migraine headaches include:
- Severe pain (usually on one side of the head)
- A “pounding” sensation in the head
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to sound or light
- Eye pain
Not all headaches are migraine headaches as there are other causes of headaches that can present themselves with migraine-like headache pain.
For example, people with cluster headaches can present in ways that are similar to migraines. The cause of migraine headaches is unknown. Changes in the neurotransmitter levels in the brain are believed to be a part of the etiology behind headaches.
Causes of Migraine Headaches
There are no blood tests or imaging studies that can diagnose a migraine headache. The only way to make a proper diagnosis of migraine headaches is to look at the patient’s signs and symptoms. Common causes of headaches include eating certain foods, being exposed to loud noises and other strong sensory stimuli, stress, and hormonal changes in the body.
What Exactly Is A Migraine?
While some people call any severe headache a “migraine headache,” migraine headaches are usually the result of certain physiological changes in the brain. These changes occur within the brain and lead to the characteristic symptoms associated with having a migraine headache.
Migraine headaches are usually linked to light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, or odor sensitivity. Additionally, migraines are often associated with nausea and vomiting—things not seen in regular headaches.
Migraine headaches are usually only on one side of the head but sometimes, they can be bilateral. Headache pain from a migraine headache is often described as “pounding” or “throbbing” and it can worsen with physical activity.
Some people will have a warning sign (called an aura) that shows up just before the headache pain begins. An aura can involve numbness or weakness on one side of the body, a blind spot in the eye, or the presence of flickering lights in the field of vision. The aura often lasts several minutes, generally going away as the pain begins.
Risk Factors For Migraines
Around a quarter of all people will experience a migraine headache at some time in their lives. Most people with migraines are women. After the teenage years, the ratio of women to men having migraine headaches is about 3 to 1.
There seems to be a hereditary component to getting migraine headaches so that there is often a family history of migraine headaches in those people who go on to develop migraine headaches.
According to the International Headache Society, migraine headaches are episodic in nature, unilateral, and represent a pulsating pain that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is made worse by physical exercise, and is associated with nausea and vomiting.
Phonophobia is common in migraine headache sufferers. Some patients will have “phonophobia,” which is a sensitivity to sound. Migraine headaches usually last several hours but can last several days.
Treatment Of Migraine Headaches
Medical/Prescription Treatment Options
The treatment of migraine headaches can include over the counter medications or prescription medications. The prescription medications often used to treat migraine pain include frovatriptan, almotriptan, naratriptan, zolmitriptan, rizatriptan, eletriptan, and sumatriptan—all members of the triptan classification of migraine headache relievers.
Other non-medical ways to help migraine headaches include:
- Taking preventative medications (to keep a migraine from happening)
- Exercises, such as yoga, tai chi, or qi gong, which reduce stress and induce relaxation
- Avoiding dietary triggers
- Lifestyle modifications such as changing one’s exercise and diet regimen
Most people find that it takes a combination of medications and lifestyle changes to prevent and treat migraine headaches.
If you believe that you are suffering from migraines, see your doctor right away, to further investigate the issues, and get the proper treatment.
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