Migraines are severe, recurring, and painful headaches. They can be preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs and other symptoms.
The extreme pain that migraines cause can last for hours or even days.
Migraines can follow an aura of sensory disturbances followed by a severe headache that often appears on one side of the head. They tend to affect people aged 15 to 55 years.
- Some people who experience migraines can clearly identify triggers or factors that cause the headaches, such as allergies, light, and stress.
- Some people get a warning symptom before the start of the migraine headache.
- Many people with migraine can prevent a full-blown attack by recognizing and acting upon the warning signs.
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can eliminate or reduce pain, and specific medications can help some people with migraine.
- People who have severe attacks can take preventive medicines.
The cause of migraines is not yet known.
It is suspected that they result from abnormal activity in the brain. This can affect the way nerves communicate as well as the chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. Genetics may make someone more sensitive to the triggers that can cause migraines.
However, the following triggers are likely to set off migraines:
- Hormonal changes: Women may experience migraine symptoms during menstruation, due to changing hormone levels.
- Emotional triggers: Stress, depression, anxiety, excitement, and shock can trigger a migraine.
- Physical causes: Tiredness and insufficient sleep, shoulder or neck tension, poor posture, and physical overexertion have all been linked to migraines. Low blood sugar and jet lag can also act as triggers.
- Triggers in the diet: Alcohol and caffeine can contribute to triggering migraines. Some specific foods can also have this effect, including chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, and foods containing the additive tyramine. Irregular mealtimes and dehydration have also been named as potential triggers.
- Medications: Some sleeping pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications, and the combined contraceptive pill have all been named as possible triggers.
- Triggers in the environment: Flickering screens, strong smells, second-hand smoke, and loud noises can set off a migraine. Stuffy rooms, temperature changes, and bright lights are also possible triggers.
There is currently no single cure for migraines. Treatment is aimed at preventing a full-blown attack, and alleviating the symptoms that occur.
Lifestyle alterations that might help reduce the frequency of migraines include:
- getting enough sleep
- reducing stress
- drinking plenty of water
- avoiding certain foods
- regular physical exercise
Some people also find that special diets can help, such as gluten-free.
Consider seeking further treatment if the above changes do not relieve the symptoms or frequency of migraines. The treatment of migraine symptoms focuses on avoiding triggers, controlling symptoms, and taking medicine.