You probably have experienced a headache at some time in your life, whether the cause was getting knocked in the head or one too many cocktails the night before. But maybe you have had the unfortunate experience of much more than just that – a pain so severe that you were unable to function normally or even became sick to your stomach. Is such an experience just a really bad headache? Or is there more at hand?
What you’ve most likely encountered is a migraine.
If you suffer from migraines – you are not alone. In the last year alone, 18 percent of women and six percent of men in the U.S. reported having at least one migraine episode (and that doesn’t include those of you who have used it as an excuse to not go into work!) Although migraines cannot be cured, there are ways to treat and manage them.
What is a Migraine?
Migraines are defined as painful, throbbing headaches that last anywhere from four to 72 hours. Some migraines are so painful that they affect your ability to perform everyday tasks and activities. Luckily, migraines have not been shown to cause long-term damage to your overall health.
What causes Migraines?
Unfortunately there is no known cause for these debilitating “ultra-headaches.” Doctors and scientists believe migraines may have something to do with the blood vessels in your brain. Migraines seem to run in the family, but it is not clear why some people get migraines while others do not.
Some women get migraines before, during or after their menstrual period. In fact, women are three times more likely to develop migraines than men. Migraines can also occur along with conditions such as asthma, epilepsy or depression.
How do you know if you have a migraine or just a really bad headache?
The most common symptom of a migraine is a throbbing pain, usually on one side of your head. The pain may move from one side of your head to the other, or you might feel it on both sides at the same time. You may feel nauseous, and sometimes even vomit. Your migraine may worsen with activity, light, noise or certain odors. Of course, symptoms vary from person to person.
Approximately one-third of people who get migraines experience what’s referred to as an “aura” before the migraine starts. This aura usually starts about 30 minutes before the pain begins. With an aura, you may see spots, wavy lines or flashing lights and have a numbness or tingly feeling in your hands, arms or face.
What are the treatment options?
For some people, over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen are enough to manage a migraine. But other individuals those options are not strong enough. In that case, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medicine.
Other options include the following:
• Acupuncture, which is the insertion of very thin needles in specific points on the body to balance the flow of energy.
• Biofeedback, a relaxation method for learning to control a body function that is not normally under conscious control, such as muscle tension.
• Relaxation techniques, such as meditation to reduce stress and tension.
• Feverfew or Butterbur, herbs that are thought to help prevent migraines.
• Riboflavin and Co-Q10 have both been shown to help prevent migraines.
Is there anyway to prevent Migraines?
You can help reduce the number and intensity of migraines by avoiding certain triggers. These triggers can include:
• Too much chocolate, MSG, red wine and/or caffeine
• Getting too much or not enough sleep
• Fasting or skipping meals
• Stress or anxiety
• Strong odors or tobacco smoke
• Extremely bright lights or sunlight
By starting a “migraine journal” and recording the details surrounding your migraine episodes, you may be able to better identify your own personal triggers. Unfortunately there are just some things you won’t be able to avoid, like your period if you’re a woman or changes in the weather and barometric pressure (which can also be to blame).
The bottom line is that migraines are never fun, and most often a major inconvenience in addition to being extremely painful. But by altering your habits and trying different treatment options, you may be able to reduce the effect migraines have on your life.