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Migraines – More than “just a headache”

  • Category: Health & Wellness
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Christopher Lumsdaine, MD
Migraines – More than “just a headache”

Unless you’ve experienced them yourself, you may not realize there are more than 10 types of migraine headaches.

Most adults may have a headache at one time or another. But migraines, which are more severe, affect an estimated 38 million people in the U.S. The prevalence of migraines led the federal government to include National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month as a recognized National Health Observance.

Migraines are periodic headaches with moderate to severe throbbing or pulsing pain that most often is concentrated on one side of the head. They occur more often in women than in men.

Some sufferers experience severe sensitivity to light, noise, and odors. Others experience nausea or vomiting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one-third of people who have migraines can predict one is coming, because they experience an “aura,” such as flashing lights or temporary vision loss. Migraines may be triggered by hormonal changes, stress, lack of food or sleep, anxiety and other reasons.

The CDC indicates that migraines are now believed to be genetic. The American Migraine Foundation attests that if one of your parents suffers from a migraine, you have a 50 percent chance of also having a migraine. When both parents have a migraine, their offspring’s chance of also being afflicted increases to 75 percent.

There are two primary types of a migraine:

  • A migraine with aura: Historically these were called “classic migraines.” They involve neurological symptoms that emerge anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour before the eruption of a headache and last about an hour. Some symptoms include temporary loss of vision, trouble speaking, weakness, and confusion.
  • A migraine without aura: These are considered a common migraine, and are more frequently experienced. Symptoms may include a quick-onset headache which usually occurs on one side of the head; nausea; confusion; mood changes; fatigue and sensitivity to light.

There are a number of other migraines that might also occur in some sufferers. They include:

  • Abdominal migraines are primarily found in children, who tend to have migraines as adults. Symptoms include moderate to severe pain in the abdomen, vomiting and appetite loss.
  • Basilar-type migraines occur primarily in teenage girls and may be associated with menstrual cycles. Symptoms include vision problems, dizziness, and slurred speech.
  • Menstrually-related migraines affect women, with symptoms including pain pulsing on side of the head, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.

After much study, healthcare providers have determined that a number of factors may increase the chance of having a migraine. In addition to menstrual cycles for women, things such as strong odors or fumes can cause the onset of a migraine, as can stress, low blood sugar, depression, sudden meteorological changes, tobacco and some medications. Other triggers include some foods, alcohol, processed meats, and caffeine or caffeine withdrawal.

The treatment of a migraine has not yet reached the level of a cure. But most physicians will offer recommendations, including more simple solutions such as resting in a quiet, dark room; placing an ice pack on the forehead; drinking plenty of fluids and taking small amounts of caffeine.

There are also preventative treatments, including the FDA-approved drug called Aimovig and over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Some natural treatments may be recommended by physicians, including vitamin B2 and magnesium.

In addition to speaking with your primary care physician, there are resources available online to learn more about a migraine, including: