Written by eHealth Navigator

What is a migraine?

A migraine isn’t just a bad headache, it is an intense, throbbing pain. Other symptoms can include nausea and sensitiviety to light and sound. Many researchers agree that a migraine occurs when swollen blood vessels around the brain press on nearby nerves, causing pain. But it’s not clear what causes this to happen.

Migraines are not all the same. Most of them occur without warning. But some people do get early signs such as:
•  Numbness or tingling in their lips, face, or hands
•  Weakness in their arms or legs
•  Difficulty focusing

Who gets migraines?

If you get migraines, you’re not alone.
•  More than 28 million people in the United States have migraines
•  Migraines are most often seen in adults 25 to 55 years old
•  Women are nearly 3 times more likely to have migraines than men
•  About 50% of migraine sufferers go undiagnosed

Migraines cause 3 million US emergency room visits annually.  Of those visits 75% of patients are female leading many to believe migraines are strongly linked to hormonal changes.  The headaches are short lived lasting four to 72 hours.  Symptoms can be relieved  with an over the counter or prescription analgesic.

Common Migraine Symptoms

Not all migraines are the same. But there are certain symptoms that many people experience. They include:
•  Throbbing pain
•  Sensitivity to light, movement, and/or sound
•  Nausea
•  Aching pressure in the entire head or in a band around the head

Migraines with Auras
About 3 out of 10 people who get migraines have auras. An aura is a feeling or series of sensations that come about 10 to 30 minutes before a migraine attack. This type of migraine has all the symptoms of a regular migraine, plus aura. The aura commonly lasts less than an hour.
These are the common symptoms of aura:
•  Seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots
•  Numbness or tingling in the face or hands
•  A disturbed sense of smell, taste, or touch
•  Feeling mentally "fuzzy"

Migraine Triggers
Many health care professionals believe that certain factors or events, often called triggers, can lead to a migraine. These triggers vary from person to person. Often it’s not just one trigger that sets off an attack, but a combination of triggers.

Some common triggers include:
•  Lack of or too much sleep
•  Skipped meals
•  Bright lights, loud noises, or strong odors
•  Hormone changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle
•  Stress and anxiety
•  Weather changes
•  Alcohol (often red wine)
•  Smoke
•  Foods that contain nitrates, such as hot dogs and lunch meats
•  Foods that contain MSG (monosodium glutamate), a flavor enhancer found in fast foods, broths, seasonings, and spices
•  Foods that contain tyramine, such as aged cheeses, soy products, fava beans, hard sausages, and smoked fish
•  Aspartame

Treatment options
While there is no cure for migraine, there are treatments to help manage it. Most treatments fall into 2 groups—acute and preventive. Talk to a doctor to find out how acute and preventive medications may benefit you.  Keep a migraine diary to help aid in a discussion with your doctor about your pain and medication use.

Acute medications
Acute medications are available over the counter or by prescription and taken as needed. The idea is to stop the pain once it has begun.

Preventive (prophylactic) medications
These medications are prescribed to prevent headaches before they start. For people who do not respond well to acute medications, experience a great impact on their lives due to migraine, or have a high frequency of migraine attacks, the doctor may consider preventive therapy.

Unlike treatments used at the start of a migraine, preventive medications are taken on a regular basis with the goal being to reduce frequency and severity of attacks.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 September 2013 1:53PM