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Migraine Headaches and Syndrome
The main symptom of migraine syndrome is the headache. Migraine headaches are severe, intense, at times throbbing, and most always awful. The headache often hits only one side of the head. They are not your usual garden-variety tension or sinus headache. And they come with other symptoms that puts the migraine sufferer down the drain. Like nausea, even vomiting, and being really sensitive to light and sounds. Often any motivation to do anything is gone. He/she has no desire to do anything except hide somewhere and try to make the world to go away. That’s why the title is: Migraine Headaches and Syndrome. It’s not only the headache, it’s a whole set of symptoms. A migraine headache can drive a person into their bed, and maybe even to the Emergency Department.
Migraine Headaches and Syndrome With and Without “Aura”
Okay, so what’s an “aura”? It’s not an invisible energy field from a sci-fi movie. An aura with a migraine is an experience or sensation that comes just before the headache starts. About a third of the people with migraines have an aura before the headache, the rest don’t. So, migraines are often sorted into 2 groups, with or without aura. A common aura is bright lines or lights flashing before one’s eyes. Other auras can be odd odors or smell, or odd tastes, or even an unusual feeling when you touch something. Yet another type can be tingling in the hands or face, or changes as simple as feeling foggy-minded, not mentally alert.
Not An Aura: Warning Signs on the Day Before a Migraine
Some individuals who get migraines can tell the day before or the evening before that a headache is on the way. They might feel irritable, or “blue” (depressed), or yawn a lot. Their neck might feel sort of stiff. Or, they day before they might feel even better than normal, more mentally clear and full of energy.
How to Stop the Migraine Headaches and Syndrome
Good medicines for migraine have been around since 1991. Even better medicines have recently been FDA approved. Some of the newer ones are made to prevent migraines from happening. Or, if while taking them the person does get a headache, it will be milder and they will come less often. Others of these newer ones treat a migraine that you already have. If you use a medicine to prevent one and still get a headache you can still take one of the medicines to treat it. For more information on medicines for migraines go to our free page on migraine treatments. The whole family of “triptans” are well known and often used. (Starting with sumatriptan [Imitrex®] in 1991, the triptans were a revolution in migraine headache treatment.) The newest ones work by blocking CGRP, a brain substance that makes the nerves involved in migraine more sensitive.
More on Treating the Headache
In the first 30 to 90 minutes of a headache, while waiting for the medicine to start working, many people get a bit of relief from a cold pack on the side of the head with the headache, and lying down in a quiet, darkened room.
What Causes Migraine Headaches?
Inherited from Family Members
The risk or tendency to get migraines is often genetically inherited. About 2 out of 3 people who get migraines have a parent or grandparent, aunt or uncle, or other family members who also get them.
The World Around You Can Affect Your Headaches
Migraine headache doctors speak of “triggers”, things that bring on a migraine. Many things around you can trigger a headache. The list of known possible triggers is long. And, of course, each person who gets migraines has to find if they have any triggers and, if so, what are their triggers. For some it’s one or another food. For example, hot dogs because of the nitrates in them. For others it’s alcohol or smoking. Stress, being stressed out, is another pressure that can bring on a migraine in some people, or being overly tired. There are people for whom skipping meals is often a problem that invites a migraine. For others, weather changes, when sunny skies turn to clouds and rain, or the other way ’round, can bring on a headache.
Hormones Going Up and Down Can Cause a Migraine
Before teenage years and the onset of girls’ periods 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 monthly variable sex hormones that start up in teenage years seem to have an problem effect.
How to Tell If That Headache is Really a Migraine
The way in which a migraine starts and the way the pain and other symptoms develop over time and then go away are so typical of migraine that just this information can be a big part of knowing a headache is a real migraine. If the headaches you get don’t fit the picture it might not be migraine syndrome. It could be something more complicated. See your doctor. She might need to do tests or brain imaging to confirm that no other medical condition, such as a sinus headache or tension headache, is the cause of the pain occasional pain.
More About Migraine Headaches and Syndrome
Everyone knows about migraines because the headaches are so severe. However, mild or severe, a migraine is not just the headache, as we mentioned above. When a person has a migraine a lot changes. For example, the nausea and maybe vomiting are from gastric system changes. The aura mentioned above, that starts before the headache, are vision and nervous system changes. There are the changes in energy level, in motivation, and the ability to think clearly. That’s why the individual with a migraine has no desire to do anything. Some people who don’t get migraines view them as just “bad headaches”. They are much different than just bad headaches.
More Migraine Details
There are mild and moderate migraines, but when people say migraine they usually are talking about the severe ones. The pounding, pulsating pain, which usually affects only one side, is made worse by movement or action. During a migraine people want to stay still and be left alone. These headaches 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 feeling fine. Others are not so lucky. When there’s nausea at times some sufferers feel a bit better once they can “lose the contents of their stomach.” In addition to being sensitive to lights and sounds, there can be sensitivity to aromas and odors. Sometimes even a good smell, like the aroma of food cooking, can seem awful and “turn one’s stomach”.
As We Keep Saying – It’s Not Just a Headache
With the good medicines we have now people have noticed another thing about migraine headaches. After taking the right medicine the headache, nausea, and other more obvious and awful symptoms ease and within a few hours go away. But there are other less obvious symptoms such as no motivation, little energy, and dragging tiredness might 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 other symptoms. But people who get migraines have noticed that when the bigger problems are gone the smaller ones are easier to see. Once the right medicine has time to be fully effective the person feels just fine.
The Benefit, If There is One, of Migraine Headaches and Syndrome
There’s an old folklore saying in medicine. If you want to live a long and healthy life, develop a minor medical condition at a young age, and then take care of that condition and yourself for the rest of your life. Though you might feel like you want to die in the midst of that worst migraine, migraine syndrome is one of those minor medical conditions.
The Lifelong Migraine Syndrome Benefit
Migraines don’t kill you. They make you sensitive to your surroundings and make you get to know yourself. They make you aware of what is good for your health and what bad behaviors you 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. Or, that you will want to smoke less. Follow a better schedule, get regular exercise and sleep. Stay away from too much stress and get away from stress if it comes your way. And you’re motivated to see your doctor now and again for your headaches. A good roadmap, indeed, for a long and healthy life.
NIH, National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke Migraine Information Page
National Library of Medicine Medline Plus on Migraine
The Mayo Clinic on Migraine
Migraine Research Foundation Raising Money for Migraine Research