What is a Migraine Headache

by Staff on June 18, 2011

What is a migraine? Isn’t it just another headache or is it just an excuse not to do something?

Most people think a migraine is just a headache. That is unless you have lived with someone who has migraines or have known someone who has migraines and is a close friend. Migraines are real and are very painful and usually debilitating to the individual who has migraines. So what does the migraine sufferer experience when having an episode of headaches? Migraine isn’t just any headache. It’s a severe throbbing pain that can keep you home from work, disrupt your family life and leave you with significant disability. Migraines are very common. They affect 28 million people. More women are affected than men. They are severe vascular headaches with sensitivity to light, touch and maybe blurred vision. There may be vomiting, nausea, and/or diarrhea. Usually there are triggers that start the migraine headache.

Now that we have an idea of what they are lets look at the causes. As stated above they are usually triggered by some environmental or physiological factor that leads to a migraine headache. Usually only a small proportion of people can identify their triggers. The following are some triggers: Stress, Sleep disturbances (lack of sleep), Fasting, Hormones, Hormonal changes, Bright or flashing lights, Odors, Cigarette smoke, Alcohol (especially wine), Aged cheeses, MSG (monosodium glutamate), Nitrites, Aspartame, Caffeine Analgesics, Lifestyle triggers, Weather changes, Altitude changes, Intense light, Illness, Dehydration, Missing meals, Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), Intense light, sound or odors, Drugs (even certain medications), Poor posture, Exhaustion, Emotional changes (especially intense emotional upsets), and Hormonal changes. The range of triggers is many and varied by individual. It is important for you to discover what your triggers may be. One of the best ways is to keep a log of food intake as well as an event log to help you determine what may be triggering your Migraine!

There is usually a sequence of symptoms that occur in a migraine attack. The first is the prodrome phase and generally has a duration of 12 to 24 hours. Some of the symptoms are as follows: increased appetite, decreased appetite, food cravings, constipation, fatigue, irritability, swelling of hands and feet, increased yawning, depressed mood, and difficulty concentrating. You may have one or several these symptoms. The aura phase if present usually has a duration of 10 to 60 minutes. Some of the symptoms that might be experienced are as follows: visual disturbances, numbness, difficulty speaking, vertigo, clumsiness, and mild paralysis. Again you may have one or several of these symptoms. The headache phase usually has a duration 2 to 72 hours. During this phase you will of course experience a headache (usually of extreme nature) and may experience nausea and/or vomiting, light and/or sound sensitivity and sensitivity to smells. The last is the Postdrome Phase of 12 to 24 hours. During this phase you may experience any or all of the following symptoms: elevated mood, depressed mood, irritability, fatigue, diarrhea, increased urination, and food intolerances. Although these phases have been identified, there may be overlapping of symptoms from one phase to the other.

There are a lot of hypotheses about the mechanism of migraine headaches. Most hypotheses have some constricting and dilating blood vessels, and nerve signals not functioning properly. The answer may be more of a combination of these hypotheses than any other answer. There does not seem to be consistent agreement about the exact mechanism of the headache. There does now seem to be more agreement that migraine headaches do exist and are a real and debilitating problem for many people.

This brings us to the treatment phase. Treatment is more varied than any other aspect of the Migraine problem. Many medications for pain are used. Whether pain medication is over the counter or prescription there is the possibility of rebound headaches occurring. Basically the medication is triggering another headache. The cycle is headache, medication and rebound to another headache. Some studies indicate as high as seventy percent of those with Migraines have rebound headaches. There are other medications that are used such as antidepressants, beta-blockers, channel calcium blockers, and AED’s. There are some indications that diet changes help some migraine suffers but not all. Nutritional supplements may offer the best opportunity for migraine sufferers. There are probably not enough clinical studies to completely know the answer to that nutritional supplement solution. However, the report from people using these type products seems indicate them to be the best solution with no evident side effects.

In conclusion, Migraines are real, they are painful, and they are disruptive to ones life. The good news is that they are treatable. You have to make the decision as to which method of treatment you want use. The range is wide. Just because a method works well in theory does not make it right for you. Look for a good sound product that has the least side effects and give it a try.

Jerry L Wright, MS

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