A migraine is a severe headache that's often accompanied by hypersensitivity to light and sounds, nausea, vomiting and vision abnormalities. Over 37 million people or 13 percent of adults in the United States alone suffer from migraines. About 5 million people who have migraines get at least one attack per month, and over 11 million of those individuals say migraines cause them to become moderately to severely disabled. Over 90 percent of sufferers report being unable to function normally or go to work when experiencing a migraine.
Perhaps the most common symptom of a migraine is having moderate to severe pain that affects the whole head simultaneously, stays isolated to one side or the other, or shifts sides. Some patients report the pain as being a pounding or throbbing pain.
A person suffering from a migraine is also very likely to be extra-sensitive to light, sound and strong odors. Some people get migraines so severely that they have to lie in dark, quiet rooms for hours or even days until the pain eases and life becomes bearable again.
Temporary vision issues are also associated with migraines. Some people may notice their vision is blurry during a migraine, while others see auras around lights, or experience dots or flashes of lights in front of their field of vision.
Nausea and vomiting is frequently experienced during migraines. Sometimes, after a vomiting attack, a person suffering from a migraine may feel short-term relief from a pounding headache. An upset stomach, dizziness and loss of appetite are often experienced by migraine sufferers, too.
Migraines can sometimes be associated with noticeable changes in body temperature, when people suddenly report being extremely warm or cold. In rare cases, people with migraines may develop fevers.
Taking a detailed medical history is a very important step for a physician who is trying to determine whether a person suffers from migraines. If you make an appointment to have a migraine assessment, expect to be asked questions about when the migraines started, how often you experience them and if you have identified any factors that tend to trigger migraine headaches. For help in answering that final question, your doctor may encourage you to keep a headache diary where you write down every instance of having a headache along with the various characteristics of your day. Some people get migraines when they are stressed, go too long between meals or just prior to a menstrual cycle. When it becomes possible to spot patterns in what causes these headaches to occur, it is usually easier for a doctor to say with near certainty whether they are migraines or another type of headache.
A physical exam is also part of making an informed diagnosis. If your doctor suspects that underlying neurological problems may be causing the migraines, he or she may order a CAT scan of your head or an MRI to take a picture of your brain. Those tests are also useful if you are suffering from migraines every day or almost as often. Because stress can be a trigger for migraines, your doctor may also include a psychological element when attempting to diagnose migraines. You might be asked to fill out a survey about how stressed you usually feel or rank your stress level on a numerical scale.
Medical studies have suggested there are several patterns related to the long-term migraine prognosis. Age appears to be a factor in migraine frequency, since some people have fewer migraines as they get older. When people who formerly suffered from frequent migraines become free of symptoms for a long period of time, they are said to be in clinical remission. In other cases, people who used to suffer from migraines continue to get headaches, but report that the symptoms they experience are less and less characteristic of migraines and more in line with tension headaches. Those patients are classified as being in partial clinical remission.
When people continually get migraines across the course of many years and do not report major changes in severity or frequency, those people are classified as having persistent migraines. Finally, some people notice that their migraines get more and more severe as time goes on, causing them to feel increasingly disabled and not capable of enjoying life as they once did. Those people are defined as falling under the progressive migraine prognosis.
Because of these four different prognosis types, it’s essential to keep track of how often your migraines occur and talk to your doctor if they begin to become more or less frequent over time. Many people who once suffered from extremely severe and frequent migraines are able to make the condition much more manageable by working with their physicians to implement treatment plans and avoiding known migraine triggers.
Some migraines can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Because migraines occur when blood vessels are enlarged, putting a cold compress on the forehead can help a person cope with that problem and get pain relief in the process. If you feel a migraine coming on, it may be helpful to take medicine, immediately go, lie down in a dark room and try to sleep while the medicine takes effect.
If over-the-counter medicines are not strong enough, there are many prescription drugs for migraine sufferers. Some that are taken by mouth are formulated so they dissolve in the mouth rather than having to be taken with fluids. That characteristic is advantageous to migraine sufferers who may be feeling very nauseous and fear that drinking water to ingest a pill may make them vomit it.
A migraine that is not treated promptly may persist for several days. Additionally, some people get migraines so severely that they have to visit emergency rooms for quick and effective interventions. In those settings, several types of drugs may be administered in combination to stop migraine pain and prevent it from coming back in the days that follow. Some of those drugs affect the way brain chemicals behave, while others narrow blood vessels in the brain or simply relieve pain.
In addition to taking the drugs by mouth, you’ll usually have the choice of receiving them intravenously or via an injection, especially in a hospital.
Although pharmaceutical treatments are effective, some people use alternative treatments instead of, or in conjunction with them. For example, some people get good results by pursuing acupuncture, biofeedback and massages that are specifically geared toward migraine sufferers. There are also some homeopathic treatments that are available from health food shops.
The more aware you are about what causes your migraines to occur the better able you’ll be to prevent them from happening, and there may be some very simple lifestyle changes that make your migraines less severe or frequent. For example, after keeping a migraine diary, you may find your attacks are most likely to happen if you have not slept enough or are waiting too long between meals. Always try to get an adequate amount of sleep and eat meals on a regular schedule.
Also, if you notice that stress is a factor in your migraines, experiment with activities such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to keep tension and anxiety at bay. Keep in mind that some of these activities will require patience and diligence before they are maximally effective. It’s important to have at least one healthy activity you can turn to when the pressure of life feels especially intense and makes you feel unnecessarily stressed.
Aerobic exercise is very useful as a migraine preventative, too, because it can reduce tension and keep stress levels lower. Furthermore, obesity is thought to be one of the risk factors for migraines, and regular exercise can help you stay at a healthy weight. When doing any sort of exercise, warm up slowly and ease into your preferred form of exercise. Intense bursts of exercise without warming up first not only make you more prone to injuries, but also can make migraines more likely to occur
If you’re a woman and believe that hormones are triggering your migraines, talk to your doctor about taking a hormone level test to assure that you do not have too much estrogen in your system. Estrogen can trigger migraines, and you and your doctor might need to avoid medications with estrogen and explore appropriate alternatives.
In partnership with healthcare professionals, be as open as possible about trying specific kinds of treatments and preventative measures, and then reporting to your doctors about what changes occur after attempting something. Also, don’t feel discouraged if something doesn’t seem to work as well as you initially expected. There is a wide variety of possible treatments to consider.
Unfortunately, for some people, migraines can be extremely debilitating. However, now that you have a solid summary about what causes migraines, the common symptoms, the process of reaching a diagnosis, and how to treat and prevent migraines, you should feel much more equipped to live a productive and fulfilling life even if you’re prone to this severe form of headaches on a regular basis.
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