What is a migraine headache?
Migraine is generally confused with a normal headache, however the severity of the two are incomparable. Migraine presents with a host of other debilitating symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to loud sounds and lights and general discomfort. A migraine is typically characterized as a one sided throbbing headache that doesn’t go away quickly.
Symptoms of migraines to watch out for
There are four stages in which you might experience the migraine and the symptoms for each vary. However, just because you have a migraine does not mean that you necessarily will go through all the stages and exhibit all the migraine symptoms. You might experience some of the symptoms and not others. Here are some of the common headache migraine symptoms particular to each migraine stage.
Causes and triggers of migraine headaches
You must have wondered what causes migraines in the first place. Here we explore the common triggers and causes of migraine headaches.
- Changes in a woman’s hormones during menopause, menstruation, or pregnancy can cause migraines. For instance, some women experience migraines or severe headache during pregnancy.
- If you are under stress for a prolonged period of time then you may experience migraines.
- Some medications have said to trigger migraines, such as oral contraceptives.
- Coffee, wine, and alcoholic beverages are said to trigger migraines.
- Foods that contain food additives can cause migraines in many people.
- Genetics can play a part in causing migraines.
- Changes in sleep pattern can cause a migraine. For example, getting way too much sleep than you normally would or not getting enough sleep can trigger migraines.
- Smells can trigger migraines in some people; especially strong smells.
- Intense physical exercise and activities can trigger migraines.
- A migraine headache can be caused due to weather changes.
- Sounds that are too loud can also trigger migraines in many people.
- Bright lighting can cause migraines in some people.
- Eating particular types of foods such as processed foods and salty food can cause migraines. Aged cheeses are said to cause migraines in some people.
- Not eating enough can trigger migraines and skipping meals can cause migraines too.
- If you take too much medication then it can lead to migraines.
- Use of tobacco can lead to migraine headaches and throbbing pain.
- Some people get migraines when they eat any type of fermented food.
Are you at risk for migraine?
If you suffer from frequent headaches, then does it mean that you are at risk of migraine? There are risk factors that make you more prone to get a migraine. These are as follows.
- Women are more likely than men to have migraines. Women are three times more prone to having migraines.
- You are more prone to developing migraines if you already suffer from other medical problems such as epilepsy or depression.
- If people in your family suffer from migraine problems then there is a high chance that you might develop migraine too.
- Women’s menstruation, pregnancy or menopause can cause migraines to develop. Hormonal changes in women trigger migraines.
Complications and contraindications for migraine
This is the case if you take the medication in high doses or if you take the medication for over 10 days a month continuously for three months. If you take triptans such as Maxalt and Tosymra for more than nine days a month then you can develop migraines as a result.
Diagnosis and treatment of migraine
How a migraine is diagnosed:
A migraine doctor will ask you for your medical history. If you have a family that has a history of developing migraines then the chances of you getting a migraine are extremely high. Your neurologist will ask you for your medical history as well and he will ask you about the symptoms that you experience.
Your doctor may perform a blood test as well as part of the diagnosis. He might perform a physical exam in addition to a neurological test to diagnose a migraine. At times, your case may be out of the ordinary in which case additional tests may be required. In this case, your doctor might perform the following.
- CT Scan: In this test, your doctor will try to understand what is causing your migraine. Various medical issues can be causing migraines and your doctor will try and determine the causes with the help of the CT scan.
- MRI: An MRI is another method that enables your doctor to see the detailed view of your entire brain. It makes use of radio waves and a magnetic field to create the brain images. An MRI is useful for diagnosing problems that you might have such as neurological problems related to your nervous system that can be causing the migraines.
There may be other tests that your doctor might want to perform. The tests will depend on your symptoms and results from the other tests.
Migraine treatment options
You must be wondering how to treat headaches and migraines because the pain is too much to bear at times. While doctors have not found a cure for migraine and headache treatment, there are a plethora of options that you can choose from to relieve migraine symptoms when they occur and to prevent attacks in the future. For example, you can drink more water so that you get better soon. When you get a migraine, you can close your eyes and rest in a dark room where there is no light. This can help relieve you of the pain associated with a migraine attack. You can also place an ice pack on your forehead to relieve migraine pain.
You can take medications for migraine that relieve you of migraine pain. This type of migraine treatment is called abortive treatment and medications need to be taken when you are already experiencing a migraine attack.
These are specifically made to lessen the migraine symptoms. The best time to take these types of medications is the moment you realize you are going to have a migraine. The following are some of the medications that you can take which help you feel better when you are already experiencing a migraine attack.
Triptans are prescription medications and an example is Imitrex. Triptans can be taken in multiple ways including as nasal sprays and pills. These drugs can prove to be effective during a migraine because they block the brain pathways related to pain. If you are prone to a heart attack then Triptans should be avoided at all costs.
Opioid medicines are only prescribed when no other form of migraine treatment is working. These are seen as a last resort to relieve pain due to migraines. These types of medicines can be addictive which is why they are not often prescribed but they do help relieve many migraine symptoms.
Pain relievers such as prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications can help feel better when you have a migraine attack. However prolonged use of pain relievers can cause other health conditions such as ulcers.
Anti-nausea medications are often used for relieving migraine pain in those people who experience severe headaches and vomiting along with nausea. Anti-nausea medicines are usually used in conjunction with pain relievers to alleviate migraine symptoms.
You should speak to your doctor about which medications are safe for you especially if you have a history of allergy or already suffer from a health condition. Prolonged use of OTC drugs can aggravate your condition, hence it is essential to check with a doctor about what you can safely take and what dosages should be prescribed.
How to adapt your lifestyle to avoid migraine
You can make small changes to your lifestyle so that you prevent future migraine attacks. Here are a few steps to take to relieve migraine pain.
- You should drink a lot of water throughout the day so that you stay hydrated at all times.
- You should avoid eating less and should eat enough so you are getting all the nutrition that your body needs.
- Eating proper and healthy food is key to ensure your body is healthy. You should try and eat at the same time daily.
- Sleeping deficiency can trigger migraines, which is why adequate sleep (8 hours) is important.
- You should maintain a steady sleep cycle by sleeping at the same time every night and wake up at the same time.
If you don’t take time out for exercising and keeping fit then now is the best time to start. You should exercise consistently. You should focus on aerobic exercise since it helps to reduce tension from your body. This can effectively help you become less prone to getting a migraine. Remember that you should start slow and then increase the pace.
If you abruptly start exercising heavily then it might only lead to aggravation of your migraine headache. Relaxation techniques such as biofeedback can help make you feel better and decrease the chances of you developing a migraine. You should speak to your doctor about this so that you can create an exercise regime together.
You can also try yoga which has proven to be a great and fun way to exercise. Yoga promotes good health and this is why it has proven to be one of the best ways to prevent migraines. Since yoga consists of meditation, breathing techniques and exercise routines combined, it can help trigger a feeling of general wellness and relieve stress. Research has proven that yoga helps to decrease the frequency at which you get migraines and their severity too. You can speak to your doctor about whether yoga is recommended for you and which asanas are safe for you to do.
Women can try hormone therapy when they notice that they experience a migraine attack when they are menstruating. If you are overweight or obese, then talk to a professional dietician about losing weight. Remember that anything extreme can cause headaches and subsequently migraines so you want to find a way to achieve your goal without triggering migraine in the process. Losing weight and staying healthy has proved to be beneficial to many people who suffer from migraine attacks regularly.
It is helpful if you keep a diary, journaling what you eat and what activity you were doing when you get a migraine. This can be helpful to determine which foods are triggering a migraine attack so you can avoid them. You should write about which medications you take as well because some medications can trigger migraine symptoms. You can include details when you slept, when you woke up, when you ate and other activities such as exercise details in your diary. All of these will help give you a chance to understand your migraine triggers.
Migraine FAQs: All your concerns addressed
Q. When do migraines begin in a person’s life? Is there a particular time?
A. There is no particular time when migraines can develop in a person’s life. Most people have noticed that migraines have started developing when they were teenagers. In the 30s, migraines tend to be at their most severe. In your 40s, migraines tend to become less severe and more bearable as you age. However, a migraine can occur anytime and it varies from person to person. Usually stressful times and menstruation are times people suffer from migraine attacks. There are so many factors involved that it becomes difficult to predict.
Q. How long does a migraine attack last for?
A. A migraine typically lasts for four hours to up to 3 entire days or 72 hours. This is applicable if you do not do anything to treat your migraine in the meantime. If you do take medication or use natural remedies for relief, then you might find relief from migraine pain earlier.
Q. How often can migraines occur per month?
A. There is no set answer for this because it depends on many things. If you tend to do things that trigger migraines then you will get many migraine attacks every month. However, if you take preventative measures then you might be less prone to migraine attacks. Some people get a migraine attack a month while others experience migraine attacks weekly.
Q. Are there any preventative medications that I can take?
A. There are several preventative medications that you can take so that you don’t have to go through migraine pain. These types of medications are usually prescribed to those people who have migraine attacks that last a long time. Examples of preventative medications include antidepressants, Fremanezumab, medications that lower your blood pressure, and anti-seizure drugs.
Q. How can I choose the medications that help alleviate migraine-related pain?
A. You need to consult your doctor about the medications that you can take for your migraine. Never take a pain relief medication or migraine preventative medication without your doctor’s approval.
Q. When should I see a doctor?
A. You should see a top migraine specialist the moment you start experiencing migraine symptoms. Oftentimes, people do not realize they have a migraine which is why they go untreated since they are not diagnosed, to begin with. If you know you have a migraine already but you are experiencing a different type of pain that is becoming unbearable then you should contact your doctor immediately. The reason is that you might be suffering from another medical condition which needs quick medical attention.
Q. What causes Migraine Headache?
A. The exact causes for migraine are yet to be medically recognized. Migraine headache is the most common symptom of the condition migraine. Migraine results due to the changes in blood flow in the brain which affects the way nerves communicate as well as the blood vessels and the chemicals in the brain. Though the causes of migraine are unknown, there are triggers which are found to stimulate the condition.
- Hormonal changes in women during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause might cause migraine headaches.
- Shock, stress, depression, excitement, or anxiety.
- Insufficient sleep or tiredness, neck or shoulder pain, poor posture while sleeping etc.
- Consumption of some kind of medicines like oral contraceptives etc.
- Foods like aged cheese, alcohol, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) etc might trigger migraine headaches.
- Too much caffeine or withdrawing from it.
- Changes in the weather or altitude induce changes in the barometric pressure which can trigger a migraine headache.
Q. Can Migraines kill you?
A. No, migraine can't kill you. It is not a fatal condition but a prolonged or untreated condition of a migraine headache can be associated with severe side effects. In rare conditions, it leads to stroke or might make you suicidal. Migraine headaches also disrupt daily life and might hamper your relationships, academic or job life.
Q. What foods cause migraines?
A. The following foods can trigger migraines. Limiting them in the diet will help decrease the frequency of migraines.
- Alcohol, especially red wine
- Aged cheeses
- Artificial sweeteners
- Citrus fruits
- Cured meats
- Dairy products
- Food additives, such as MSG
- Frozen or Salty foods
- Nitrites found in foods
- Pickled and fermented foods
- Wheat, including pasta and bread products
Q. Where do migraines hurt?
A. The intense and pounding pain of migraine headache usually starts in the forehead and causes discomfort on the side of the head or around the eyes.
Q. What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?
A. Migraine headache versus (other types of) headaches might seem like a similar condition but their medical diagnosis and treatment is completely different. Headaches do have their own severity depending on how long they last or what type of headache it is. Headaches cause pain in the head, face, sides of the head, or upper neck. It often varies in frequency and intensity. Whereas migraine is an extremely painful primary headache disorder, often accompanied by nausea or light sensitivity. Before a migraine begins, the patient might feel some aura like they can see flashes of light or experience tingling sensations in the limbs.
Q. What should I eat for migraine?
- Orange, yellow, and green vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach
- Carbonated, spring, or tap water
- Fresh chicken, fish, or lamb
- Seeds like Poppy, Pumpkin, Sesame and Sunflower
- Rice, especially brown rice
- Dried or cooked fruits, particularly non-citrus kinds such as cherries and cranberries
- Natural sweeteners or flavours, such as maple syrup and vanilla extract
Q. How do you stop Migraine Headaches?
A. Migraine often is accompanied by severe headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, & odours. With these few simple steps, prevent the condition of migraine-
- Avoid bright lights and loud noises.
- Maintain a strict diet. Include foods which are good for migraine.
- Beware of the internal changes like the hormonal changes or external changes in the environment to figure out which conditions might trigger a migraine attack.
- Eat and sleep on a regular schedule. Maintain a track of your headache. Keep note of your regular day to day activities like workout, medications, feelings and emotions which results in migraine.
- Most importantly, avoid stress.
Q. Are there any non-drug options to relieve migraine pain?
A. A recent review of the evidence (2016) suggested that acupuncture helps reduce the frequency of headaches, though the effect was small. Another non-drug treatment that is suggested is single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation. It is a non invasive device treatment approach but not a full-pledge option. It involves placing the sTMS device against the back of the head for less than a second to deliver a very brief pre-set magnetic pulse. It can provide acute and preventive migraine treatment with minimal side effects. Consult your physician before clinical trials. Avoidance of foods that precipitate attacks also helps to present migraine.
Q. Does weather affect migraines?
A. Scorching sun heat, humidity, and drastic changes in barometric pressure may lead to, or “trigger,” a migraine attack in some people. However, studies have shown that weather has no link in triggering migraine attacks.
Q. What is the link between migraine and hormones?
A. Hormones start and direct a large number of your body's capacities, keeping your body in balance inside a continually evolving condition. At the point when the count of hormones in your body are uneven – during period, pregnancy, or menopause – it may prompt a headache. Actually, around seventy five percent of all women with headache report that pain is identified because of the feminine cycle.
Natural Remedies for migraines
There are numerous natural remedies for migraines that you can try out to help relieve pain and prevent migraines occurring in the future. Some of them are as follows.
You can opt for acupressure which is the practice of applying pressure on specific points so that you feel relief. There has been research on acupressure and it has been found that many people do feel better as a result of acupressure therapy where headache relief pressure points are used to provide relief. It can help you feel better when you are experiencing migraine pain and its symptoms such as nausea.
There are some non-traditional options that you can try. For instance, cognitive behavioural therapy is useful for people who suffer from frequent migraine attacks. Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to help you understand pain perceptions and how our thoughts can have a major impact on that. You can try acupuncture which is great for people with chronic migraine pain. However, we recommend you consult your doctor before you try out any of these alternative therapies that can help prevent a migraine attack.
Getting a massage helps in improving your quality of sleep. Since sleep deficiency is one of migraine triggers, it can help you feel better if you make massage a part of your life. You can get a massage a week if possible as this helps you get relaxed and feel better about life in general. Getting a massage helps to decrease cortisol levels and can help treat anxiety as well.
You can add magnesium to your diet because a deficiency of magnesium in your body can lead to migraine attacks. You can opt for magnesium oxide supplements which can help those women who experience pain due to hormonal changes as well. Else, you can make magnesium-rich foods a part of your diet. Foods such as peanut butter, sunflower seeds, almonds, cashews, oatmeal, and eggs are rich in magnesium.
Sometimes essential oils can help. For instance, lavender oil can help you feel better when you are experiencing chronic headaches such as headache due to stress or anxiety headache. There has been a published study that has found that people who inhaled lavender oil for 15 minutes felt better. You can even apply diluted lavender oil on your temples when you experience forehead headache such as headache right side of head or headache on left side of head.
You should speak to your doctor about the natural remedies that you want to try because not all remedies are effective for everyone. Your migraine doctor can advise you on the kind of treatments or alternative treatments that will work for you.