What is a Migraine?

Many people across the world suffer from migraines, either migraine attacks or chronic migraines. They can be quite bothersome and affect your everyday routine. So, what are migraines, what causes them, and what should you do if you suffer from migraines? In this article, we will discuss this and more.

What is a Migraine like?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a migraine is defined as a condition marked by recurrent severe headache, often with nausea and vomiting. While this definition is accurate, it fails to mention the plethora of other symptoms that can be associated with a migraine. In addition to severe headache and nausea, migraines can be accompanied by fatigue, loss of appetite, dizziness, and/or sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells. You may not experience all of these symptoms with a migraine, but it is likely that two or more will be present.

Migraines are classified into two separate types, random attack migraines and chronic daily migraines. Random attack migraines occur sporadically, and often come on when they are triggered. Chronic daily migraines are not, as the name suggests, migraines that occur every day. To meet the criteria for a diagnosis of chronic daily migraines, the migraine must occur at least 15 days out of every calendar month, for a period lasting longer than three months. The migraines must also have at least, 2 of the following symptoms for 8 days: moderate to severe headache, pain affecting only one side of the head, throbbing in the side of the head, and pain that is caused or worsened by physical activity (i.e. exercising, household chores, and walking).

Also, some individuals experience random attack migraines that can turn into chronic migraines. Be sure to see your physician if you believe you are at risk for chronic migraines.

How Common are Migraines?

Migraines are one of the most common forms of headaches existing in the world. In America alone, migraines affect an astonishing 12% of adults. This is approximately 29.5 million people! You can only imagine what the numbers would look like on an International scale. The prevalence of migraines is also three times as likely to occur in women as men. On an international scale, this number is much higher. Women are 1% more likely to suffer from men in the United States.

Why Do I Get Migraines?

Studies on migraines have been inconclusive as to what the cause may be. However, doctors and researchers have some theories on the cause of certain types of migraines.

It is believed that mild migraines may be caused by an abnormal rise of naturally produced chemicals in the brain. These migraines often feel more like a tension headache, rather than a full blown migraine. When the levels of these certain chemicals rise, inflammation is caused. This inflammation puts pressure on the blood vessels of the brain, which leads to the pain that you feel in your head when you have a headache.

Another likely cause of migraines is genetics. In these cases, it is believed that the pain of a migraine is caused by abnormal genes in your body. These abnormal genes are hereditary, passed on between generations within a family. Science supports this because the prevalence of some migraines is greater in individuals with family members that have suffered from chronic migraines.

A proven cause of migraines is “trigger” events. Trigger events are any activity that may occur that causes your migraine. These events include but are not limited to bright light, loud noises, lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, grinding of the teeth at night, stress, caffeine withdrawal, weather changes, foods that contain MSG, foods containing nitrates, foods containing tyramine, and consumption of alcohol. Migraines caused by trigger events are called episodic migraines. In most cases, it is highly likely that several triggers, not just a single event, are the cause of the migraine. The triggers can also vary from person to person. Trigger events are one of the most plausible reasons for a sudden migraine attack, however, the other two explanations are plausible. They are especially plausible for chronic migraines.

What You Should Do if You Have Migraines

One of the first steps you should take if migraines are affecting your life is keeping a migraine diary. A migraine diary will not provide you with relief, however, it will help eliminate possible causes for your migraines. Once you can narrow down the cause(s) of your migraine, you will have a better idea of the treatment that will help the best. In your diary, you should include where you were when the migraine started, the exact activity you were doing, the time of day, what you had previously eaten and drank that day, where the pain is located, and the symptoms of the migraine. If you are a woman, you should also keep track of your menstrual cycle. This has been known to play a role in causing women’s migraines, and may be the reason for the slight increase in the number of migraines in women vs. men.

If you suffer from chronic migraines, you should also keep a food diary. This diary should include what you eat and drink, when you consume the food or beverage, and the amount that you eat/drink. You should also make notes of when you consume foods or drinks that are high in MSG, nitrates, tyramine, or caffeine.

Another step to take is to recognize the onset of migraines before they happen. This can help you identify triggers. Some symptoms that signal the onset of a migraine include pain in the face or neck, sinus-like symptoms (facial pressure, watering eyes, and nasal congestion), and aura. Aura is a neurological symptom that will get progressively worse until the pain of a headache presents. This temporary symptom may present as visual disturbances, difficulty in speaking, confusion, numbness, vertigo, and stroke-like symptoms. This may occur with or without the onset of a migraine.

Once you have established that migraines are affecting your daily life, it is important to speak with your physician. This is especially true if the migraines occur sporadically over a period of a few weeks or months, or if the symptoms of a migraine persist for more than three consecutive days. You should also speak with your physician if the symptoms of the migraine are accompanied by additional symptoms. In this case, a brain MRI may be ordered. Your physician may also refer you to a neurologist if there are any concerns.

The final step you should take when you suffer from random attack or chronic migraines is to decide on a course of treatment. This should be fully discussed with your doctor. Sufferers of migraines have three basic options for treatment; pain killers, lifestyle changes, or alternative methods. The treatment you choose should directly affect the believed cause of your migraine. This is a time when the migraine and food diaries will help.

Tips for Migraine Sufferers

One thing you can do if you suffer from regular migraines is make lifestyle changes. A good place to start is your diet. If you eat a lot of processed foods that contain artificial ingredients, it may cause your migraines. Even if it is the cause, these types of foods may not help. You can also consider an exercise routine. However, if it seems that exercise causes or worsens your migraine, try to limit the amount of difficult physical activity that you perform throughout the day.

Another tip for migraine sufferers is to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Stress can cause migraines, and it can also make a migraine significantly worse. There are several sources of stress in life. If long hours at work are causing stress in your life, consider requesting for a vacation. If this is not an option, quit working overtime, or speak to your boss about all of the duties you have in your current position to see if some of your work can be reassigned. If home is stressful, try creating a stress-free environment. This is a place that you can retreat to for a periodic break to de-stress. Finally, regardless of the source of your stress, take frequent breaks to relax. At work, this can be just five or ten minutes to rest your head on your desk, while you may want to take a hot bath or read a chapter in a book to relax at home.

Finally, if you suffer from frequent migraines, evaluate your medications. Many people who suffer migraines turn to short-acting medications. These medications relieve pain, however, only for a short period of time. After this period, many sufferers may choose to take more medication. Instead of relieving pain, however, long-term use of these medications can lead to medication over-use headaches. These can easily be mistaken for migraines. Be sure that you are honest with your doctor when discussing your symptoms and treatments that you use. This will allow them to tell the difference between a migraine and a medication over-use headache.