A migraine is a severe headache that can be disabling, sometimes for as long as 72 hours. It may involve moderate to severe head pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Physical activity can make the symptoms worse, often forcing the sufferer to stay in bed with the lights off and the doors shut.Over 28 million Americans suffer each year from migraines. The symptoms vary from person to person, and can be triggered by a number of things. Interestingly, three fourths of adult migraine sufferers are women. This reveals a possibility of hormonal patterns playing a part in the onset of a migraine.
Some people are able to recognize an impending migraine before it occurs. Signals can include sparkling flashes of light, blind spots, zig zags in the individual’s vision, tingling in the arms and legs, weakness and possibly speech problems. Milder signals include cravings for sweets, thirst, drowsiness, irritability, depression or extreme elation and energy.
A migraine is a disease, unlike a normal headache. During a migraine, the serotonin levels decrease. Doctors believe this then causes the trigeminal nerve to release neuropeptides, which travel to the outer covering of the brain. The neuropeptides cause the blood vessels to dilate and become inflamed, resulting the migraine’s pain.
There are several possible triggers for a migraine. Some of these are:
- Stress – Increased stress levels can lead to a migraine. This can occur when you have a particular amount of stress and then have downtime, such as a weekend.
- Foods – Some food and drink items can lead to a migraine, such as red wine, aged cheeses, chocolate, pickled or marinated food, aspartame, caffeine, msg and processed meats.
- Medications – Some medications can bring about a migraine.
- Lights – Bright lights or sun can be a trigger. Strong odors and perfume can as well.
- Physical Exertion – Exercise and strenuous activity can begin a migraine.
- Hormones – A woman can get a migraine depending on the phase of her cycle. Furthermore pregnant women have reported that their migraines worsen during pregnancy. Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy are migraine triggers.
There are two forms of medications that can be used to treat migraines. These are pain relieving and preventive. If your migraines often disable you, talk to your physician about preventive measures you can take to reduce the frequency in which they occur.
Some useful over the counter pain medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin (not for children), ibuprofen and acetaminophen. You can also get a prescription from your doctor for a stronger pain relieving medication.
Triptans are often used for pain relief as well. These bind to serotonin receptors and cause the blood vessels to restrict. Ergots are pain medications that can be used for migraine pain, but can be coupled with side effects such as muscle weakness, dizziness and nausea.
Preventive medications can reduce your number of migraines as well as their severity and length. These include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and other cardiovascular medications. It is not known why medications that are meant for high blood pressure and coronary artery disease work in migraine prevention, but this is normally the first prescription used.
Some antidepressants work to reduce migraines and their severity. Anti-seizure drugs such as Depakote, Depakene and Topamax can help to prevent migraines, as can the antihistamine Cyproheptadine.
If you are a migraine suffer, avoid things that trigger your headaches. Exercise regularly, quit smoking and avoid medications that contain estrogen.