Over 38 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Chances are you know someone who has this debilitating pain.
Migraine Headache: What Is it?
A migraine is a headache with throbbing pain that is usually worse on one side of the head. The pain is often severe enough to hamper daily activities and may last from four hours to three days if untreated. More than one in 10 Americans, including one in 6 women, have migraines. Foods, stress, and hormones can be migraine triggers.
Throbbing pain typically occurs on one side near the temples, forehead, and eyes. Moreover, there is increased sensitivity to light, sound, and mild exertion, such as climbing the stairs. In addition, symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and vision problems. The pain can be disabling, forcing people to miss work or other activities.
About 20% of people who suffer from migraine headaches will have an aura about 20 minutes to an hour before the pain. They may see flashing lights, wavy lines, or dots, or they may have blurry vision or blind spots. These are called classic migraine headaches.
Some people may have a change in mood before a migraine begins. They may become more excitable, irritable or depressed. Others may detect a funny smell or taste. They may feel more fatigued, yawn frequently, or experience muscle tension. About 1 in 4 people experience this pre-migraine phase, which can occur as early as 24 hours before any head pain.
There are several migraine headache triggers:
- Flashing lights
- anxiety and stress
- lack of food and/or sleep
- hormonal changes
- foods such as MSG, red wine, cheese, chocolate, and processed meats
Women are three times more likely to have these headaches than men. They are also more common among people who have epilepsy, depression, asthma, anxiety, stroke, and several other neurologic and hereditary disorders.
Doctors use CT scans and MRI’s to rule out brain tumors and bleeding of the brain.
Combinations of common pain relievers and anti-inflammatories may help: acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium. Extended use will cause uncomfortable side affects such as more intense headaches, and ulcers.
Triptans, are the most common medication prescribed for migraine headaches, and are most effective when taken early in an attack. Common triptans include Amerge, Axert, Frova, Imitrex, Maxalt, Relpax, Treximet, and Zomig. People with high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and other conditions may not be able to take triptans. Triptans do not interact well with antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs.
If migraine headaches are frequent or very severe, you may need to take a drug every day to prevent attacks. Drugs used to treat high blood pressure can be prescribed for this purpose. They include beta blockers and calcium channel blockers. Several types of antidepressants can also be used to prevent migraine, as well as anticonvulsants. Even Botox, which is normally used to treat wrinkles, can keep migraines at bay for some people.
All medications have side effects and can not be taken on a consistent basis. Therefore, alternative treatments such acupuncture and biofeedback relaxation training are recommended.
Migraine headaches are serious business and can be very severe. There are a variety of pharmacological and alternative treatments available. However, most of all, if you have a headache accompanied by paralysis, confusion, fever, or stiff neck, seek emergency medical care.