Migraine: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and More
Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from migraines, more than those with diabetes and asthma combined. The majority of them suffer from chronic migraines, meaning they suffer disabling symptoms almost every day, preventing them from leading fulfilling lives as family members, employees, and productive members of society
A migraine headache is often unilateral (one-sided) and associated with vomiting, light sensitivity, sound, smell depression, and sleep deprivation. People suffering from this condition often experience recurring episodes of migraine attacks which become less severe with aging.
Researchers believe that a body hormone called serotonin triggers a migraine attack. Serotonin is a vital hormone chemical that stabilizes mood, feelings, and happiness. It generally impacts your body which can affect blood vessels.
An elevated serotonin level can cause blood vessels’ constriction (shrinking), while a decreased serotonin level can cause blood vessels to dilate (swell). This swelling can result in pains and other neurological problems.
What Causes Migraines
For many years, research has tried to identify the causes of migraine; however, there are no definite theories on the exact cause of migraine.
It is speculated that headache occurs when the trigeminal nerve transmits pain signals to the brain, triggering releases of inflammatory substances like serotonin and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).
Some common triggers of migraine include:
Emotions like excitement, tension, or excessive fear can cause dilation in the blood vessels, triggering an episodic migraine.
Caffeine Intake and Withdrawal
Excessive intake and abrupt withdrawal of caffeine can trigger a migraine. While a regulated amount of caffeine may help ease migraine discomfort by acting on adenosine receptors, excessive intake can act as a diuretic, leading to dehydration and triggering migraine.
Since your brain has developed a dependency on regular caffeine consumption, caffeine withdrawal can trigger a headache and, in turn, causes a migraine attack.
Pressure changes, storm fronts, and other changes in atmospheric conditions can also trigger a migraine.
Hormonal Changes in Women
Episodes of migraines are common during women’s menstrual cycle, ovulation, and pregnancy. This condition can also occur during menopause due to fluctuating estrogen levels in the body.
Symptoms of Migraine
Migraine may cause pain, affecting one or both sides of your head. The most noticeable migraine symptom is a throbbing and mild or severe headache. Commonly diagnosed symptoms of migraine include:
- Sensitivity to light, noise, and odors.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
- Feeling very warm (sweating) or cold (chills).
- Dizziness and blurred vision
- Pale skin color (pallor)
- Feeling tired
Migraines typically last for a few hours. However, severe episodes can elapse much longer. You can experience migraine attacks at different varying stages; these stages are:
Prodrome is a primary stage characterized by symptoms indicating an impending migraine attack. Changes experienced during this stage include neck stiffness, food cravings, fluid retention, constipation, increased urination.
This phase of migraine includes visual disturbance such as seeing bright flashes of light or zigzag lines, speaking difficulty, needle sensation, and temporary muscle weakness. Aura can occur before or during a migraine.
In these phases, migraines start as a mild throbbing and pulsing pain, which become severe during physical activities. This migraine episode can last up to 72 hours and can usually accompany headaches; however, you may have a migraine without a headache.
This phase is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light, touch, and odor.
This phase occurs and lasts up to a day after a headache. Muscle pain, food cravings, and tiredness are common symptoms experienced in this phase.
For proper diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your health history, symptoms, and other medication you have taken in the past. To rule out other medical conditions that may be causing your symptoms, your doctor may order a blood test, an imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI, or an Electroencephalogram (EEG).
Migraine treatment focuses on managing and relieving symptoms as there is no cure for migraines. Your doctor may prescribe ergotamine drugs and pain relievers to ease discomfort.
Other home remedies that can help relieve symptoms include:
- Resting in a dark and isolated room
- Placing a pack of ice on your head
- Drinking plenty of fluid to prevent dehydration
- Engaging in stress management routines such as exercise
- Avoid known triggers such as medication
- Use of supplements such as riboflavin (vitamin B2) and coenzyme Q10
- Weight loss therapy to reduce obesity
Migraine attacks and management vary from one individual to another; therefore, it is necessary to learn and avoid personal migraine triggers and symptoms by reporting significant changes to your healthcare provider.