What is a Migraine?

Migraine headaches can cause varying amounts of pain for the people who suffer from this condition. Migraines can last for days and the pain is often excruciating. Although the exact reasons why some people get migraines are not fully known, there are various theories, such as brain chemical imbalances and brainstem changes.

It is also believed that there are numerous circumstances that can initiate a migraine. These include fluctuating hormones in females, certain foods and beverages, stress, weather changes, specific medications and vigorous physical activity.

What are the Symptoms of a Migraine?

Before, during and after a migraine headache, individuals may feel various symptoms as they go through one or more stages.

Symptoms include

A day or two before a migraine, individuals may go through the prodrome stage which causes mood swings, a stiff neck and thirst. Individuals may experience the aura stage either before or while they are having a migraine. These symptoms include seeing spots or bursts of light, problems when talking and facial numbness.

The stage of attack, which can last up to 72 hours, may consist of throbbing head pain, light sensitivity, blurry vision and vomiting. Postdrome is the last stage and it often lasts for 24 hours. During this period, individuals may feel weak, dizzy and confused.

Migraine Causes

Environmental factors and genetics play a role in migraines, which are thought to be caused by brain chemical imbalances and changes in the brainstem. During a migraine, levels of serotonin drop causing neuropeptides to be released, resulting in migraine headaches.

There are several factors that may trigger migraines, including the following:

  • Sleep pattern disruptions, such as getting too much or too little sleep
  • Physical exertion
  • Barometric pressure and weather changes
  • Some medications such as nitroglycerin or oral contraceptives
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Consuming some foods including salty or processed foods and some cheeses
  • Hormonal changes in women, particularly when estrogen levels have dropped, during pregnancy, or after menopause
  • A drop in blood sugar

Age usually plays a factor in when migraines start. While migraines can affect persons of any age – they usually begin in adolescence and peak during your 30s.

Prevention of migraine

How is a Migraine Treated?

Migraine treatments are used to prevent headache symptoms and to avert episodes in the future.

Treatments include

Medications that relieve pain are taken when a migraine is occurring. Common prescriptions include triptans, opioid drugs, ergots, glucocorticoids and medications that help nauseousness. Other medications can be prescribed to prevent migraines or to lessen theirĀ  intensity. These may include onabotulinumtoxinA, anti-seizure medication, antidepressants and beta blockers. Some individuals also try alternative medicine, such as massage therapy, acupuncture, herbs and biofeedback, to control or lessen chronic migraine headaches.

Migraine Prevention

While migraine headaches may not be entirely avoided, there are some strategies you can employ to reduce the severity and frequency of migraine headaches.

There are preventative medications you can take to reduce and prevent migraines, including:

  • Beta-blockers such as metoprolol, timolol, and propranolol
  • Anti-seizure drugs such as topiramate and valproic acid
  • Antidepressants such as venlafaxine and amitriptyline
  • Botulinum toxin (otherwise known as Botox)

While these drugs are typically prescribed for other health-related issues, they work in prevention of migraines as well.

Lifestyle changes can also help to prevent the frequency and severity of migraines, including:

  • Keeping a consistent sleep pattern
  • Eating at regular intervals to keep blood sugar regulated
  • Keeping stress to a minimum through activities such as walking and meditation
  • Regular exercise
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Alternative therapies such as acupuncture

While there is no cure for migraines at this time, making a few lifestyle changes can help to reduce the frequency of these headaches.