A migraine is a severe and painful headache. They can be preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs, such as flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
Fast facts on migraines
• Some people who suffer from migraines can clearly identify triggers or factors that cause the headaches, such as allergies, light, and stress.
• Some people get a warning symptom before the start of the migraine headache.
• Many migraine sufferers can prevent a full-blown attack by recognizing and acting upon the warning signs.
• Over-the-counter medications can eliminate or reduce pain, and specific medications can help some sufferers.
• People who have severe attacks can take preventive medicines.
There are many different types of migraine medication including
Painkillers should be taken early rather than allowing the headache to develop.
Over-the-counter medications include:
Other analgesics, like aspirin with caffeine and acetaminophen, can often stop the headache or substantially reduce pain.
Symptoms of migraines
Symptoms of migraine can start a while before the headache, immediately before the headache, during the headache, and after the headache. Although not all migraines are the same, typical symptoms include:
• Moderate to severe pain, usually confined to one side of the head, but can occur on either side of the head.
• The pain is usually a severe, throbbing, pulsing pain.
• Increasing pain during physical activity or when straining.
• Inability to perform regular activities due to pain.
• Feeling sick and physically vomiting.
• Increased sensitivity to light and sound, relieved by lying quietly in a darkened room.
• Some people experience other symptoms such as sweating, temperature changes, stomach ache, and diarrhea.
Migraines with aura
For many migraine sufferers, the auras act as a warning, telling them that the headache is soon to come. However, many people do not experience auras. Auras are perceptual disturbances, such as:
• Confusing thoughts or experiences.
• The perception of strange, sparkling or flashing lights.
• Zig-zag lines in the visual field.
• Blind spots or blank patches in the vision.
• Pins and needles in an arm or leg.
• Difficulty speaking.
• Stiffness in the shoulders, neck, or limbs.
• Unpleasant smells.
If any migraine sufferer experiences unusual or worrying features that they do not normally have, then they should seek medical help rather than blaming the migraine.
If the following symptoms are unusual for the sufferer, they should not be ignored:
• unusual severe headache
• visual disturbance
• loss of sensation
• difficulties with speech
When migraines with aura affect vision, the patient may see things that are not there, such as transparent strings of objects, not see parts of the object in front of them, or even feel as if part of their field of vision appears, disappears, and then comes back again.
It is common for patients to describe the visual disturbance as similar to the sensation one has after being photographed with a very bright camera flash, especially if one walks into a darker room straight away.
Treatments for migraines
There is currently no single cure for migraine; treatment is aimed at preventing a full-blown attack, and alleviating symptoms if they come.
Some lifestyle alterations might help reduce migraine frequency, including:
• getting enough sleep
• reducing stress
• drinking plenty of water
• avoiding certain foods
• regular physical exercise
If the above changes do not alleviate the symptoms or frequency of migraines, then treatment and prevention focus on avoiding triggers, controlling symptoms, and taking medicines.
Some people who suffer from migraines can clearly identify triggers or factors that cause the headaches, but many cannot. Potential migraine triggers include:
• allergies and allergic reactions
• bright lights, loud noises, flickering lights, smoky rooms, temperature changes, strong smells, and certain odors or perfumes
• physical or emotional stress, tension, anxiety, depression, and excitement
• physical triggers such as tiredness, jet lag, and exercise
• changes in sleep patterns or irregular sleep
• smoking or exposure to smoke
• skipping meals or fasting causing low blood sugar
• hormonal triggers such as menstrual cycle fluctuations, birth control pills, and menopause
• tension headaches
• foods containing tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and some beans), monosodium glutamate (MSG), or nitrates (like bacon, hot dogs, and salami)
• other foods such as chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, banana, citrus, onions, dairy products, and fermented or pickled foods
• medication such as sleeping tablets, the contraceptive pill, and hormone replacement therapy
Triggers do not always cause migraines and avoiding triggers does not always prevent migraines.