Anyone looking for migraine relief knows the faster the relief the better! Migraines are not “just a headache” but a complex disease that can cause a painful throbbing, often disabling, pain–usually on one side of the head. The pain is mostly in the front around the temples or behind one eye or ear. Besides pain, you may have nausea and vomiting, and be very sensitive to light and sound. A migraine can occur any time of the day, though it often starts in the morning. The pain can last a few hours or up to one or two days and their is no known natural cure.
The cause of migraine headaches (MH) is unknown, but some things are more common in people who have them.
- Most often, migraine affects people between the ages of 15 and 55.
- Many people have a family history of migraine.
- They are more common in women.
- Migraine often becomes less severe and frequent with age.
One theory about the cause of MHs is the blood flow theory, which focuses on blood vessel activity in the brain. Blood vessels either narrow or expand. Narrowing can constrict blood flow, causing problems with sight or dizziness. When the blood vessels expand, they press on nerves nearby, which causes pain.
Another theory focuses on chemical changes in the brain. When chemicals in the brain that send messages from one cell to another, including the messages to blood vessels to get narrow or expand, are interrupted, and then they can occur.
More recently, genes have been linked to migraine. People who get migraines may inherit abnormal genes that control the functions of certain brain cells. And something the person’s body is sensitive to in some way triggers the actual headaches.
Headache triggers can vary from person to person. Most are not caused by a single factor or event. Your response to triggers can also vary from headache to headache. MHs tend to be brought on by:
- lack of food or sleep
- bright light or loud noise
- hormone changes during the menstrual cycle
- stress and anxiety
- weather changes
- chocolate, alcohol, or nicotine
- some foods and food additives, such as MSG or nitrates
To help pinpoint your headache triggers, it may be helpful to keep a headache “diary.” Each time you have a migraine, write down the time of day, point in your menstrual cycle, where you are at the time, and what you were doing when the severe headache started. Talk with your doctor about what sets off your headaches to help find the right treatment for you.
Are there different kinds of migraine?
Yes, there are many forms of MH. But, the two forms seen most often are classic and common migraine.
Classic migraine. With a classic form, a person has these visual symptoms (also called an “aura”) 10 to 30 minutes before an attack:
- sees flashing lights or zigzag lines
- has blind spots or loses vision for a short time
The aura can include seeing or hearing strange things. It can even disturb the senses of smell, taste, or touch. Women have this form of severe headache less often than men.
Common migraine. With a common form, a person does not have an aura, but does have the other severe headache symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.
How does a migraine headache differ from a tension headache?
While MHs affect millions of people, they are still less common than tension headaches. Tension headaches cause a more steady pain over the entire head rather than throbbing pain in one spot. Most of the time, MH attacks happen once in awhile, but tension headaches can occur as often as every day. While fatigue and stress can bring on both tension and MHs, migraines can be triggered by certain foods, changes in the body’s hormone levels, and even changes in the weather.
There are also differences in how these two types of headaches respond to treatment with medicines. While some over-the-counter drugs used to treat tension headaches sometimes help MHs, the drugs used to treat severe headacheattacks do not work for tension headaches.
When should I seek help for my headaches?
Nearly half of the people in the United States who have severe headaches do not get diagnosed and treated. The National Headache Foundation suggests you talk to your doctor about your headaches if:
you have several headaches per month and each lasts for several hours or days
your headaches disrupt your home, work, or school life
you have nausea, vomiting, vision, or other sensory problems
What tests are used to find out if I have migraine?
If you think you get MHs, talk with your doctor.
Before your appointment, write down:
- how often you have headaches
- where the pain is
- how long the headaches last
- when the headaches happen, such as during your menstrual cycle
- other symptoms, such as nausea or blind spots
- any family history
Your doctor may also do an exam and ask more questions about your health history. This could include past head injury, sinus or dental problems, or medicine use. By just talking with your doctor, you may be able to give enough information to diagnose.
You may get a blood test and other tests if your doctor thinks that something else could be causing your symptoms. Work with your doctor to decide on the best tests for you.
Are women more prone to MH?
Yes, MHs are more common in women. In fact, about three out of four people who have migraines are women. They are most common in women between the ages of 35 and 45; this is often a time that women have more job, family, and social commitments. Women also tend to report higher levels of pain, longer headache time, and more symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.
Hormones may also trigger migraine. Over half of women with MHs report having them right before, during, or after their period. Others get them for the first time when taking birth control pills. And some women start getting them when they enter menopause.
Can stress really cause migraines?
Yes, stress is the most common trigger of headache. Events like getting married, moving to a new home, or having a baby are all sources of stress. But studies have found that it is the day-to-day stresses, not these major life changes, that are most linked to headaches. Juggling our many roles, such as being a mother and wife, having a career, and financial pressures, can be daily stresses for women.
Learning to make time for yourself and finding healthy ways to deal with stress are important. Some things you can do to help prevent or reduce stress include:
- eating a healthy diet
- being active (at least 30 minutes most days of the week is best)
- doing relaxation exercises
- getting enough sleep
Also, it may be helpful to pinpoint which factors in your life cause stress. You may find that you can even avoid some of these stresses. And for other stresses that you can’t control, try to think of things you can do ahead of time to help you cope with them.
What relieves migraine pain and with what type of treatment?
Even though their is no natural cure, you can work with your doctor to come up with a treatment plan that meets your needs. Make sure your plan has ways to treat the headache symptoms when they happen, as well as ways to help make your headaches less frequent or severe. It may include all or some of these methods.
Lifestyle changes relieves migraine pain. Finding and avoiding things that cause headache is one way to reduce how often attacks happen and how painful they are. Your diet, the amount of stress in your life, and other lifestyle habits may add to getting MHs. Eating a healthful diet, quitting smoking, and reducing your alcohol intake may help improve your headaches. Learn stress reduction techniques and find other positive ways to cope with stress. Try to get on a regular sleep pattern.
Conventional medicine relieves migraine pain . There are two ways to approach the treatment of MH with drugs: prevent the attacks, or relieves severe headache symptoms during the attacks. Many people with severe headaches use both forms of treatment. Some medicines used to help prevent attacks include drugs that were designed to treat epilepsy and depression. To relieve symptoms during attacks, your doctor may start by telling you to take over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen. If these drugs don’t work to give you relief, your doctor can prescribe types of drugs called ergotamines or triptans. Ergotamines narrow the blood vessels, which helps the migraine’s throbbing pain. Triptans are new types of drugs that relieves MH pain by both narrowing blood vessels and balancing the chemicals in the brain. Hormone therapy may help some women whose MH seem to be linked to their menstrual cycle. Work with your doctor to choose the best medicine for you.
Natural alternative methods relieves migraine pain. Biofeedback has been shown to help some people. It involves learning to control how your body reacts to stress to reduce its effects. Other methods that relieves MH pain is acupuncture, relaxation and some MH topical application balms. Counseling can also help if you think your MH may be related to depression or anxiety. Talk with your doctor about these treatment methods.
How to relieve MH pain at home?
Work with your doctor to come up with a home treatment plan to manage your headaches. Sometimes, at the onset of a migraine, applying a topical application balm, lying down in a dark room with a cold pack used as a method that relieves MH pain. Stress management techniques, such as relaxation and massage, can help limit pain. They may also make attacks happen less often. Keep over-the-counter pain killers handy. In your headache diary, make a list of home treatment methods that work for you in different situations.
What are some ways I can prevent MHs?
The best way to prevent a MH is to find out what events or lifestyle factors, such as stress or certain foods, set off your headaches. Try to avoid or limit these triggers as much as you can. Since MHs are more common during stressful times, find healthy ways to cope with stress. Talk with your doctor about starting an exercise program or taking a class to learn relaxation skills.
If your doctor has prescribed medicine for you, take them exactly as prescribed. Ask what you should do if you miss a dose and how long should take the medicine. If you use headache medicines too often or more than what your doctor prescribes, the medicines can even start to cause a condition called “rebound headaches.” With this condition, your medicines stop helping your pain and actually begin to cause headaches. Talk with your doctor if the amount of medicine you are prescribed is not helping your headaches.
How are children affected by MHs?
Like adults, children can have stresses that lead to headaches. MHs, with nausea and vomiting, most often begin in childhood. About half of all school-aged children have some type of headache. And the frequency of headache increases as children go through puberty.
During childhood, boys and girls suffer from MH at about the same rate. But during their adolescent years, more girls are affected. Childhood headache can also be a sign of a more serious problem, such as depression. Parents should look out for other signs as well, like changes in mood or sleep habits.
Keeping a headache diary and doing relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, are most often suggested for children. If headaches are linked to depression, your child’s doctor may suggest medicines and counseling. You should talk with your child’s doctor before you give your child over-the-counter pain killers. Do not give aspirin to anyone under age 20. It increases their risk of Reye’s Syndrome. This is a rare problem in children and teens that causes nausea, fever, severe vomiting, and other health problems. Talk with your child’s doctor to find the right treatment for your child.
No matter when your headache occurs, one thing’s for sure: You need relief…the faster the better.
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