Migraine is a relatively frequent health problem affecting close to 10% of the North American population and is generally much more intense than a regular headache. The intense pain sufferers experience during an attack can be incapacitating, preventing them from performing normal daily activities. Despite it all, the problem seems worse than it actually is.
Taking a look at migraine
A migraine is one type of headache among many others. However, experts have been able to identify the characteristics that are proper to migraine alone. People who suffer from migraine do not always experience all of the symptoms enumerated below and are usually only affected by a few of them.
A migraine, or migraine headache, is recognized by the unilateral pain located on one side of the head, possibly extending to the neck. While the pain is usually qualified as “pulsating”, as if the heart was beating inside the head, it is typically considered to be of moderate to acute intensity. The pain is usually aggravated by regular physical activities such as walking, and by any other physical effort. Most sufferers experience nausea that may be accompanied by vomiting. They may be unable to tolerate light (photophobia) and ambient noises (phonophobia), as well as smells and odours (osmophobia). A migraine attack typically lasts anywhere between 4 and 72 hours.
A premonitory phase can precede a migraine attack, manifesting itself a few hours or a few days before the beginning of an attack. Some people may experience sudden food cravings, fatigue and difficulty concentrating as well as stiffness in the neck.
Migraines may be accompanied, or not, by an aura and are respectively known as “migraine with aura” and “migraine without aura”. This precursory sign indicates that a migraine attack is at the preparatory stage. The aura usually appears in the hour before the onset of a migraine and may last through the beginning of a migraine attack. It is most often characterized by unusual visual and/or sensorial manifestations such as loss of vision, troubled vision, spots or lights in the visual field, numbness and tingling sensations.
A resolution phase most often follows a migraine headache. Some sufferers may feel exhausted or depressed, experience scalp sensitivity, general malaise or have difficulty concentrating following an attack.
Some mysteries about migraine remain unclear. We know however, that migraine is of neurovascular origin. In fact, the pain appears to be the result of dilated blood vessels in the brain, which can be explained by nerve hypersensitivity. It is also believed that there is an anomaly in the transmission of pain messages, which would clarify, in part, the sensation of intense pain during a migraine attack.
Some migraines actually have a genetic component; such is the case with Familial Hemiplegic Migraine.
Migraine and its victims
Migraine does not discriminate. However, three times more women than men suffer from migraine attacks each year, more specifically, those in the ages between puberty and menopause. People of all ages and gender can suffer from migraine; be they children, seniors, males or females, everyone can be afflicted.
An end to migraine
Migraine remains a recurring problem that cannot be permanently cured. To date, the wide range of medications available on the market can only control migraine attacks, not cure them forever.
The core of migraine treatments remains the change and improvement of a sufferer’s lifestyle habits. These changes alone may help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Good sleeping habits are primordial: it is important to respect a sleeping schedule with regular number of hours of sleep. For example, you should try and get to bed at the same time every night, even on weekends, and sleep for the same amount of hours each night. When a drastic change occurs in a sufferer’s sleeping pattern, he or she may be more prone to an attack.
Adhering to a regular physical exercise regimen may also help considerably reduce the frequency and number of attacks. Another well known trigger factor is stress. Although it is practically impossible to eliminate all stress from our daily lives, we can aim to reduce sources of stress. Certain types of medications are also known to cause migraines.
Finally, food also plays an important role in migraine attacks. It is recommended you keep a regular eating schedule and pay attention to what you eat, as certain foods can cause migraines. Over time, you will pin point the foods that are problematic and therefore be able to avoid eating them. Trigger foods vary from one person to another, although some are more likely than others to trigger migraines. Typically, culprit trigger foods include alcohol, particularly red wine, chocolate, caffeinated drinks, certain types of cheese, cold cuts and foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) or aspartame.
In many cases, lifestyle changes are not enough to prevent migraine attacks. Although adopting a healthy lifestyle is an excellent starting point, you may have to consider other strategies. If you find yourself in this situation, make sure you act as quickly as possible. Because the faster you begin treating migraines, the faster you increase your chances of controlling attacks.
For mild to moderate migraines that do not inhibit daily activities, over-the-counter medications may be considered to assuage pain. In fact, analgesics like ibuprofen and naproxen are good choices.
For people suffering from moderate to severe migraines that prevent them from performing daily activities, it is usually preferable to resort to prescribed medications that are specifically meant for the treatment of migraine. Some medications are offered in nasal spray or injection form to help those who suffer from intense nausea and vomiting. Other medications come in orally disintegrating tablets that can be taken without water.
Preventative medications may be used if migraine attacks are too frequent, prevent from performing daily activities or are incapacitating in any other way. In this case, medication must be taken daily to reduce the frequency or intensity of the attacks.
Although many improvements must be made in the treatment of migraine, many options are currently available and you must seek the advice of your physician and pharmacist to attain optimal treatment. Take care of yourself: a good life hygiene can a real impact on the frequency and severity of migraine attacks!