More than just a "bad headache," migraine sufferers know the debilitating effects of this disease. Nearly 30 million Americans suffer migraines on a regular basis. Characterized by a throbbing pain located in one side of the head, migraines often cause nausea, as well as severe sensitivity to light and sound.
Symptoms vary by individual, and can last anywhere from four hours to several days. Most sufferers report a three-pronged migraine attack consisting of:
The headache itself.
The pre-headache and post headache phases of a migraine have been known to last for days in some sufferers, and may include accompanying symptoms such as muscle tenderness, body aches, neck and shoulder tension, fatigue and mood swings.
"Aura," or light flashes accompanied by blind spots, zigzag lines, shimmering lights and numbness in the arm, neck and face, are some of the severest side effects of migraine headaches, experienced by one-third of all sufferers. Although they can be quite hash, aura symptoms usually last less than an hour, and are a precursor to the actually migraine itself.
What happens during a migraine? Research shows that once a migraine is triggered in the brain, the body reacts with an inflammatory response, releasing large amounts of serotonin into the body, which causes an interaction between the trigeminal nerve and blood vessels in the brain. When this happens, the body's natural pain processing centers become overloaded and begin to spontaneously "fire." This is what causes skin sensitivity on the head and scalp.
While there is no direct answer as to the cause of migraines, there are many types of headache triggers that have been studied. Because every patient is different, triggers also vary from person to person. However, some of the main triggers experienced by many migraine sufferers include: diet, excessive hunger, severe weather changes as air pressure suddenly dips or rises, activity, environment, emotions, medications, and hormones. Heredity too, is believed to play a large part in who will get all types of headaches, especially migraines.
Once a patient learns the specific "triggers" that bring on a migraine, they can try and avoid them, take preventative measures such as medication o relaxation to help ward off, or at least lesson the severity of the impending migraine.
Once a patient has been diagnosed with repeat migraines, there are several treatment options available.
Preventative Care is essential in reducing the number of attacks experienced by a sufferer. A careful study of individual triggers is crucial in order to help the patient better understand his/her migraines, and how to better deal with them. Daily medications have been found helpful in some sufferers in reducing the number and severity of attacks. Relaxation techniques, proper diet, exercise and sleep regiments, as well as biofeedback and massage therapy have all been used successfully to both prevent migraines and deal with their pain.
Acute Therapy treats the symptoms after the attack actually begins. Many medications are now available to ease the severity of attacks, but must be taken as soon as the migraine begins for best results. Acupuncture, massage and heat and cold applications have also been found useful in migraine treatment.