Migraine

woman with migrain

Better medications for migraine have recently been released and more are in the pharmaceutical industry pipeline.  The newer ones prevent migraines altogether or greatly lessen the frequency and severity.  In the unfortunate circumstance that you do get a migraine headache there is the whole family of “triptans”.  Their development and approval was a revolution in migraine headache treatment.

Migraine Disorder – Not Just a Headache – Migraine Disorder is a headache disorder with recurrent headaches.  Everyone knows about “migraines” because the headaches are so severe.  A migraine is not just the headache, however.  A person’s whole physiology changes.  There are gastric changes with nausea and maybe vomiting.  There are visual changes, sometimes before the headaches itself starts.  There are changes in energy level, motivation, and ability to think clearly.  When a person has a migraine headache, he/she has no desire to do anything.  They want to hide somewhere comfortable and want “the world to go away”.  If people who do not get migraines view them as just “bad headaches” they are seriously mistaken.

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More Migraine Details

There are such things as mild migraines or moderate migraines but it’s the really severe ones that everyone knows about.  The pain usually affects only one side of your head.  The pain is pounding, pulsating, and made worse by any action or moving about.  They can be as short as 2 hours or last as long as 72 hours.  Many people say they go to sleep with a migraine and wake the next morning with the headache gone.  Others are not so lucky.  As mentioned above, along with the headache comes nausea and maybe vomiting.  Also, one is often very sensitive to light, and to noise, and sometimes to odors.  Sometimes even a good aroma, like cooking food, can smell just awful and “turn your stomach”.  About 1 in 3 people who get migraines have some kind of warning that a headache is coming.  It’s a change in vision or a feeling that tells them that a headache is on the way.

As We Said Above – It’s Not Just a Headache

With the good medicines we have now people have noticed another thing about migraine headaches.  There is more to it than just the headache and other obvious symptoms.  After taking the medication the headache, nausea, and other more obvious symptoms ease and eventually go away.  But the other less obvious symptoms such as no motivation, little energy, dragging tiredness stay around a bit longer.  When one is crushed by a headache and nauseated to near vomiting it’s hard to worry about or maybe even notice these symptoms.  But people who get migraines have noticed that when the bigger problems are gone the smaller ones are easier to see.  Once the medicine works all the way the person feels just fine again.

What Causes Migraine Headaches?

Family

For one, family, that is, the tendency to get migraines is genetically inherited.  About 2 out of 3 people who get migraines have family members who also get them.  

The World Around You

Many influences around in your environment can trigger a headache.  The list is long and it’s a different list for different people.  For some it’s food, as with the nitrates in hot dogs.  For others it’s alcohol or smoking.  Stress, being stressed out, is another pressure that can bring on a migraine, or being overly tired.  Skipping meals is often a problem that invites a migraine.  Weather changes, as when sunny skies turn to clouds and rain, or the other way ’round, can bring on a headache.

Hormones Going Up and Down, Too

Before teenage years and the onset of menses, the percentage of boys who get migraines is a bit higher that the percentage of girls.  After puberty, about twice as many or 3 times as many women have migraine headaches as men.  Those sex hormones that start up in teenage years seem to have an effect.

How to Tell It’s Really a Migraine

The way in which a migraine starts and the way the pain and other symptoms develop over time are so typical of migraine syndrome that just this time course and symptom complex are a big part of knowing a headache is a real migraine.  If what you have does not fit the picture it might not be migraine syndrome or might be more complicated.  See your health care provider.  She might need to do tests or brain images to confirm that no other medical condition, such as sinus headaches, is the cause of the pain.  

Treating the Headache

A discussion of medications used to treat a migraine or stop them from occurring is presented in the Member Page on migraine disorder treatment (https://www.neuroscirandd.com/member-page/migraine-disorder-treatment/).  In brief, really good medications are now available.  Your health care provider will likely have suggestions of medications you might try.  Until the medication starts working many people get a bit of quick, temporary relief from a cold pack on the side of the head with the headache, and lying down quietly in a darkened room.  If you think there are triggers, like foods or missing meals or too little sleep, avoid them.

The Benefit If There Is One

There’s an old saying in medicine, a bit of medical philosophy.  If you want to live a long and healthy life, have a minor medical condition at a young age, and then take care of that condition and yourself for your whole life.  Though you might feel like you want to die in the midst of the worst migraine, migraine syndrome is one of those minor medical conditions.  They don’t kill you.  Having them is awful, to be sure.  But they make you sensitive to your surroundings and yourself.  They make you aware of what is good for your health and what bad behaviors to need to avoid.  They make you examine more carefully what and when you eat and drink.  Maybe you’ll decide to cut back on alcoholic beverages.  Maybe you will want to smoke less.  Follow a better schedule and get regular sleep.  Stay away from too much stress and get away from stress if it catches you.  And you’re motivated to see your medical care provider now and again for your headaches.  A good roadmap, indeed, for a long and healthy life.

Helpful links:

National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Migraine-Information-Page

National Library of Medicine (United States), Medline Plus

https://medlineplus.gov/migraine.html

The Mayo Clinic

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201

Migraine Research Foundation

https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/