A migraine usually feels like an intense, debilitating headache, but much worse. It is a neurological condition, often accompanied by other symptoms. The frequency and intensity of migraines are different from one person to the next and are found in women more often than men.
Migraines commonly run in families and can affect people of all ages. They can begin at a very young age or may not surface until adulthood. Some of the symptoms include sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, numbness, or difficulty speaking.
According to the International Headache Society, a headache can be classified as a migraine when the pain is throbbing, moderate to severe, aggravated by movement, and associated with nausea, sensitivity to light, and lasts for more than four hours.
Other symptoms commonly associated with migraine include:
- sensitivity to smell
- trouble concentrating
- seeing bright zigzag lines or flashing lights for no apparent reason
- an overall unwell feeling
- stiffness in the neck and shoulders
Migraines generally reoccur over several years or even decades. During this time, the frequency and severity vary greatly.
Just about anything can set off a migraine. Triggers are many and varied and not necessarily the same for every person or every attack. Often, it may take a combination of triggers to set one off.
Common Triggers Include:
- missed or unsubstantial meals
- caffeine withdrawal
- certain types of wine, beer or alcohol
- fermented dairy products or certain types of cheese
- citrus fruits
- monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- bright sunlight or flickering lights
- strong odors, such as perfume, smoke, gasoline or particular food
- daily stress
- travel-related stress
- changes in the weather
- certain oral contraceptives
- lack of sleep
- too much sleep
Prevention is always the best medicine but for those who have suffered migraines over a long period these things may help.
At the first sign of a migraine, stop what you are doing, if at all possible. Find a dark, quiet place to relax and rest, sleep if you can.
Hot or cold compresses applied to the neck or forehead often help. A warm compress can soothe the aches and pains; alternately, the numbing effect of an ice pack can help to dull the pain. Hot temperature therapy with heating pads, blankets, or a long hot bath can relax tense muscles.
Keep Track of Your Migraines
Keeping track of your migraines may help to prevent an attack or at least lessen the severity. Pay close attention to what you were doing when the migraine started. Think about what might have triggered it. What did you eat? How much sleep did you get? Did anything unusual or stressful happen? When did it start, how long did it last, and what helped provide relief? Over time, you may see a pattern emerge, which can help you prevent an attack before it becomes too unbearable.
Trying to avoid migraine triggers is generally the best thing to do. However, some studies show that this practice may actually increase sensitivity and subconsciously increase the risk of potential triggers. A more practical approach may be to learn to cope with these triggers. Strive for balance in your life. Dealing with migraines can be a challenge, but healthy lifestyle choices might help.
Keep in mind that migraines may also be caused by an underlying condition such as a pinched nerve. Your health professional can help with this.