Migraines: Symptoms, Causes, Relief

Migraines are a neurological condition that’s more than just a bad headache. 

It is associated with many other symptoms, which can significantly impact your life. 

About 12% of the population has migraines, attacking around 6% of men and 17% of women.  

If you want a guide to help you better understand migraine pain, then you’ve come to the right place. 

This is a detailed analysis of migraines and the currently available treatment.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine is a disabling, hereditary, recurrent, and common neurovascular headache disorder. It strikes a migraine sufferer a couple of times a year in childhood. And can progress to a few times a week in adulthood. Especially in women. 

Migraines are genetic disorders that cause episodes of moderate-to-severe headaches. Other than pain, a migraine can cause nausea and high sensitivity to sound and light. Migraines are classified into subtypes. 

The most typical migraine headache, which is present in 75% of cases, is a migraine without aura. These are the migraine subtypes classified by the International Headache Society.

Chronic migraine 

A chronic migraine is a headache that happens 15 days/month or more for over 3 months. Chronic migraine patients experience migraine features at least 8 days or more a month. The chronic migraine prevalence is 1.4% to 2.2% of the population. 

Migraine with aura 

This migraine is repeated yet has completely reversible attacks. Migraine attack lasts minutes. Those affected with a headache also may have other migraine symptoms, such as speech, motor, retinal, visual problems, etc. 

In the U.S., the one-year prevalence of migraine patients with aura is 5.3% in women and 1.9% in men. 

Migraine without aura 

This migraine is a recurring headache attack. It can last 4 to 72 hours. The headache severity varies from person to person. 

The migraine attack can feel like pulsating pain with moderate to severe intensity. The headache can be worsened by exercise. These migraines can also lead to sound and light sensitivity and nausea. The lifetime prevalence ranges from 15% to 26% in women, and 6% to 10% in men. 

A migraine attack tends to start with a warning sign and aura. A typical aura symptom develops more than 5 min to 20 min and can last less than 1 hour. It is often recognized by sensory phenomena or visual symptoms. Migraine aura can also involve language disturbance and motor weakness. 

Silent migraine

There is also a condition called silent migraine or acephalgic migraine. This is a migraine aura without head pain. Despite the lack of head pain, this ailment can still be uncomfortable to deal with. 

Episodic migraine

Episodic migraine is recognized by the headache that happens less than 15 days/month. But, it is difficult to predict the exact amount of time an episodic migraine will last. Episodic migraine is found in sufferers who have 0 to 14 headache days a month. 

Hemiplegic migraine

While hemiplegic migraine is very rare. Many hemiplegic migraine symptoms mimic those found in stroke, like muscle weakness from hemiplegic migraine or temporary paralysis. Then there is vestibular migraine. This is a nervous system issue that can result in vertigo or dizziness. And may or may not cause a headache. 

Menstrual migraine

Probably the most troublesome migraines are hormone headaches. This is a menstrual migraine that can happen during or right before you get your period. These migraines can get worse with sound, smell, light, and sudden movements. 

Pediatric migraine

Sometimes a child can develop migraines. A pediatric migraine tends to last shorter than that in adults. This makes it difficult to treat. The child can experience severe pain and vomiting. 

Visual Migraine

The least likely to cause serious discomfort is a visual migraine. It results in a temporary symptom of visual distortion. 

It can start with a small shimmering area that expands outward. This symptom can last roughly 20 to 30 min. 

Retinal migraine

A retinal migraine is an eye ailment that triggers brief attacks of visual issues and blindness. The episodes can feel quite terrifying. But, they tend to be short-lived and relatively harmless. 

Remember that a migraine isn’t just centered in the head. It can also lead to stomach pain. This is abdominal migraine and can trigger recurrent pain episodes in the stomach. 

Symptoms

Migraines may progress in four different stages. Each symptom can vary depending on the stage. However, not every patient with migraines will go through these stages. Nevertheless, they can help you spot the symptoms. 

Take a look at the stages below. 

Prodrome

Prodrome is the first stage. It happens 1 to 2 days before migraines. The body might develop some subtle changes that could indicate an upcoming headache. 

These are:

  • Fluid retention

  • Stiff neck

  • Food cravings

  • Mood fluctuations

  • Constipation

  • Increased urination

Aura

An aura can develop before or post a migraine attack. Auras are reversible and tend to cause visual and other disturbances. 

Each symptom develops gradually, builds over time, and could last 1 hour. These include:

  • Trouble speaking

  • Numbness/weakness at one side of the body or in the face

  • Needles or pins sensations in the extremities

  • Vision loss

  • Visual disturbance (i.e., seeing different shapes, flashes, or bright spots)

Migraine Attack

Acute migraine is a term used for a migraine attack that is not chronic. The intensity of the pain and headache will vary. It can also strike a couple of times a month or less, depending on the type of ailment you have. 

At this stage, people can have:

  • Pulsing or throbbing pain

  • Pain at the side of their head or both sides

  • Smell, sound, and light sensitivity

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

Post-Drome

After the tension headache subsides and the headache disorder dissipates, you can feel washed out, drained, and very confused. This stage lasts about 24 hours. 

Some patients feel ecstatic. But, doing a sudden movement at this time can briefly bring back the pain. So, it is imperative that you rest and avoid another headache. 

How to Spot the Difference Between a Migraine and a Headache

Almost everyone will experience a headache at a certain point in life. Various types of headaches exist. They vary based on what’s causing the problem, their frequency, and their severity. These types include primary and secondary headaches. 

A primary headache is an independent condition that triggers pain in the face, neck, or head. For example, migraine and tension headache. A cluster headache is another primary headache type. It triggers intense pain behind the eye or on the side of the head. 

Secondary headaches develop due to a different condition. Like medication overuse headache, headache from stress, or infection. 

The tension-type feels like powerful pressure around the head. Factors like sleep apnea, hunger, jaw clenching, neck strain, and arthritis can cause this type of headache. 

Those who’ve experienced migraine pain describe it as being debilitating and disabling. The symptoms are intense and difficult to handle. 

The facial pain can last from 4 to 72 hours and may cause vomiting or nausea. You can recognize a migraine episode if you experience sensitivity to light or sound. 

While a sinus headache is typically accompanied by mucus-like nasal discharge, fever, ear, and tooth pain. To know for sure if you are dealing with migraines, talk to a headache specialist. 

Causes

Before you can focus on acute therapy, it’s important to look at each migraine trigger. A retrospective study indicated that 76% of its patients had triggers. Some of these triggers can be a probable factor. 

These causes are:

  • Stress 

  • Weather changes 

  • Changes in hormone levels (for example: during pregnancy, ovulation, and menstruation) 

  • Skipped meals 

  • Drinking alcohol 

  • Smells (from perfumes and colognes)

  • Light exposure 

  • Neck pain 

  • Physical activity 

  • Heat 

  • Sexual activity 

How to Get Relief Naturally at Home

The headache pain can be difficult to cope with. Experts suggest massage therapy for pain relief. It can thwart migraine frequency and amplify sleep quality. Acupressure and diet changes can also help. 

Acupressure means applying pressure to certain parts of the body. It can release some of the tension and pain you might be feeling. 

Diet changes are more of a preventive treatment rather than quick relief. Avoiding alcohol, red wine, processed goodies, and caffeinated drinks may help. 

When it comes to natural alternatives, people like to use antimicrobial compounds in essential oils. Mainly lavender. It could be a viable remedy for aches, anxiety, and stress. 

If you want a reasonable option rather than just preventing migraines, acupuncture might help. Research shows acupuncture can alleviate chronic pain

RELATED: How You Can Manage Your Chronic Pain Using Meditation.

When to See a Doctor

If you’ve been diagnosed with the condition and are already receiving the proper medication, then consult with a physician whenever the pain becomes too difficult to handle. If the headaches have increased in severity and frequency, then see a doctor. 

Loss of consciousness, vision, uncontrollable vomiting, and lasting headaches can be particularly draining to overcome. A doctor can help manage the discomfort. 

Diagnosis

Doctors will often diagnose the ailment based on your medical history and symptoms. They will do a neurological and physical exam to see how complex your condition is. Then, they can do an MRI or CT scan to rule out any other causes for the pain. 

Treatment

Some patients may choose to take medication to prevent a migraine from occurring. These drugs include: 

  • Anti-seizure meds

  • Antidepressants

  • Blood pressure-reduction medication

  • CGRP monoclonal antibodies

Pain relief may also help during a migraine attack. But, medication overuse can cause head pain. These are what we call rebound headaches. A rebound headache could result from excessive/frequent use of pain-relieving medicine. 

When using products such as these, it is critical to take the right doses and avoid overuse. Talk with your doctor about the best medicines you can take for the migraine headache and migraine prevention strategies that are best suited for your needs. 

Conclusion

Whether you want to prevent migraines or treat your migraine headache, consult with a specialist. This disorder is a real source of pain. 

Although you may not have a serious medical issue, it’s best to talk to a doctor to figure out the best treatment plan. Now that you are familiar with the symptoms and causes, you can better manage your condition.

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Sources

  1. Pescador Ruschel MA, De Jesus O. Migraine Headache. [Updated 2021 Aug 30]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560787/
  2. Burstein R, Noseda R, Borsook D. Migraine: multiple processes, complex pathophysiology. J Neurosci. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4412887/
  3. Pescador Ruschel MA, De Jesus O. Migraine Headache. 2021 Aug 30. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32809622/
  4. Manzoni GC, Torelli P. Epidemiology of migraine. J Headache Pain. 2001;2(Suppl 1):s11-s13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3451821/
  5. Katsarava Z, Buse DC, Manack AN, Lipton RB. Defining the differences between episodic migraine and chronic migraine. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2012;16(1):86-92. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3258393/
  6. Lawler SP, Cameron LD. A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine. Ann Behav Med. 2006. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16827629/

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