Considered to be neurological conditions which are more common to women than to men (seventeen percent in women versus ten percent in men), migraines are severe headaches which are so painful that they are often debilitating for hours or even whole days at a time. Furthermore, migraine headaches can affect people of all ages, from very young children and adolescents onto elderly adults.
In roughly thirty percent of migraine sufferers the headache is preceded by several warning signs such as a sensory visual aura (may or may not disappear when the pain comes), brightly sparkling flashes of light, dazzling zigzagging lines within the field of vision, slow diffusion of blind spots, tingling of pins and needles in one arm and/or one leg, feeling extremely weak and experiencing language or speech problems. Some people who suffer with migraine headaches may not experience auras but they may suddenly be confronted with cravings for sweets, an unusual boost of energy, extreme thirst, drowsiness, irritability or depression. All such warning signs, if recognized quickly enough, can help the migraine sufferers take immediate actions which can significantly cut down on the inevitable pain and make the migraine headaches somewhat more bearable. The remaining seventy percent of migraine sufferers are attacked with full blown migraines without any warnings or preambles.
Symptoms of Migraines
Most migraine headaches are unilateral as their pulsating and throbbing pains are experienced on one side of the head or the other but rarely on both, and they usually last between four and seventy-two hours. Some migraine headache sufferers experience the bouts several times per month while others only once or twice a year and the typical symptoms of migraine headaches are:
- Excruciating pain
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Extreme sensitivity to bright lights which is also known as photophobia
- Excessive intolerance to noise of any kind which is scientifically known as hyperacusis
- The symptoms tend to increase with any amount of physical activity
Causes and Triggers of Migraines
Migraine headaches and headaches in general are not completely understood yet. One theory points to functional changes in the pathways of the nervous system and the imbalance of brain chemicals such as serotonin whose functions are to deliver pain messages. Whether this theory is accurate or not remains to be seen. However, it is known that there are certain factors which activate migraines and they are:
- Hormonal changes such as the variation of estrogen levels during menopause.
- Ingesting certain products such as alcohol (mostly beer or red wine); aged cheeses; chocolate; fermented, pickled, dilled or marinated foods; caffeine; canned, processed or preserved foods; and some seasonings.
- Hunger due to skipped meals or fasting.
- Mental stress.
- Over stimulation of senses such as caused by bright light or glaring sunlight, strong scents (pleasant or otherwise), as well as loud and piercing noises.
- Changes in sleep patterns such as caused when missing sleep or sleeping too much.
- Extreme physical exertion.
- Abrupt environmental changes such as seasonal and weather, altitude and pressure as well as time zones.
- Certain prescribed, over-the-counter or recreational drugs.
Cures for migraines have not yet been discovered but there are medications that can reduce the frequency of the attacks, their duration and their severity — some are taken to relieve symptoms during an attack while others can be taken as preventive medications.
- Pain relieving medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), triptans, ergotamine, anti-nausea medications, butalbital combined with aspirin or acetaminophen and opiates such as codeine.
- Preventive medications: Cardiovascular drugs such as beta blockers, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, antihistamines and Botox.
Home remedies and alternative therapies have been known to be effective in the treatment of migraines:
- Muscle relaxation exercises along with relaxation of pleasant tasks such as listening to soothing music, partaking in favored hobbies or taking hot baths.
- Getting enough sleep to give the body and mind a good chance to rest but avoiding over sleeping.
- Massage therapy.
- Herb, vitamin and mineral therapies.
- Cervical manipulation.