Migraine: Causes, Complications, Prevention, and Treatment

Most people dread the thought of getting a migraine headache. Unlike a normal headache, a migraine can be severe and cause a person to experience intense throbbing sensations in part or full of their head. Migraine attacks can also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and even sensitivity to harsh sounds and light.

It is believed that a migraine attack may last from 4 to 72 hours, but for some unfortunate people it may intensify and take days to go away completely. There are various reasons why a particular person may get affected by a Migraine and here is a detailed analysis of the ailment.

Prevalence of a Migraine

As per the Migraine Trust, a charity organisation of London, Migraine is the third most common disease affecting the people of the world. This is when a lot of people are not able to diagnose that they are suffering from this dreaded disease. Nearly 15% of the world’s population has faced a migraine attack at some point.

Somehow Migraine affects more women in comparison to men though there is no sufficient proof why this trend is prevalent. Three out of four migraine patients are females, and that clearly shows the extent to which the disease is widespread across the feminine gender.

Causes of Migraine

Studies are still on to understand why an attack of a Migraine happens, but it is believed that hormonal, genetics and environmental factors play an important role in the same. During an attack the level of Serotonin drops, and this causes your trigeminal nerve to release neuropeptides which move to your brains outer covering and cause a migraine. Apart from this the below factors act as the silent triggers of a migraine attack.

  • Certain types of salty and fried foods like cheese and processed foods. Plus, if you skip your meal for any reason, you may face an attack.
  • Drinks- especially alcohol and wine, also highly caffeinated beverages.
  • Any physical or mental stress.
  • A fluctuation in estrogen levels causes a migraine in many women. It is this reason why many women face the problem right before or during their period cycle.
  • Bright lights, glare of the sun and even some very strong smells like a bottle of perfume or paint thinner.
  • Either sleeping too much or missing on your sleep.
  • Physical exertion which may tire you out.
  • Oral contraceptives and vasodilators can also contribute.

Apart from this, there are certain risk factors which also play a key role in a migraine attack

  • For a person who has a family history of a migraine, you may inherit it too.
  • Though migraines can start at any age, their peak happens in your 30’s after which the incidence of the same starts reducing.
  • Women are more prone to a migraine attack when compared to their male counterparts.
  • Some women also face this situation of no attacks during the pregnancy but the same returning once the baby is delivered.

Stages of a Migraine

A migraine history starts either in childhood or in the initial stages of adolescence. Normally a Migraine passes through four stages namely Prodrome, Aura, headache and postdrome. It is quite possible that you might not experience all stages together. The signs of these stages are:

Prodrome– Just one or two days before an attack you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Severe mood swings
  • Cravings for food
  • Stiffness in neck
  • Frequent urination and thirsty feel
  • Desire to yawn

Aura-An aura may occur before or during a migraine attack. You can also have a migraine without an aura too.

  • Loss of vision and pins sensation in hands and feet
  • Difficulty in speaking
  • Hearing music or noises
  • Weakness and numbness in the face
  • Jerking or any other movement

Attack or a headache– Frequency of a headache may differ from person to person and even the duration of the attack.

  • Severe pain on one side or the whole of your head.
  • Throbbing or pulsating pain
  • Visible sensitivity to light, sound and even smell and touch
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Difficulty in seeing

Postdrome– This phase is when your attack is over, and this causes a person to feel wasted and tired. Some people also feel quite happy in this phase.

  • Feeling confused and tired
  • Mood swings and feeling dizzy
  • Weakness overall
  • Again, sensitivity to light and sound.

Complications seen in a migraine

You may try to control your migraine from intensifying, but that may only cause more trouble in the below forms.

  • Problems in the abdomen– If you take painkillers to get rid of the discomfort you may experience problems like abdominal pain, and bleeding,
  • Frequent headaches– Continuous use of the medicines to curb the problem may cause headaches which are less in intensity compared to a migraine. This can happen in cases when you take these OTC medicines at least ten days in a month.
  • A chronic migraine– In case your migraine has been coming continuously for 15 days in a month then that means the problem is chronic.
  • Aura for a longer time– Usually your aura period should end after the attack, but in certain cases, it may extend for some time. In such a scenario the person may face similar symptoms like bleeding inside the brain.

Preventing an attack of a migraine

Till recently experts suggested that by avoiding certain triggers a migraine can be avoided. However, certain lifestyle changes are also necessary to reduce the incidence of migraine attacks.

  • Stop the intake of any medicines that may affect your levels of estrogen in the body. This holds especially true for women who have found that estrogen level is the trigger for a migraine attack.
  • Obesity can also contribute to developing migraine hence maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle is very crucial. You can choose any activity that may make you feel better. However, do not attempt very intense exercise without any warm up as that may contribute towards an attack.
  • Follow a daily routine and pay attention to your sleep and food timings. In case your schedule gets hampered for any reason the probability of migraine attack would increase.
  • Recent researches have concluded that by adoption of learning to cope (LTC) strategies you can prevent migraines from bothering you. LTC can also be combined with cognitive behavioural therapy, and it works by desensitising the headache triggers that can cause a migraine.

Treatment of a Migraine

The treatment of a migraine can be divided into different type’s basis the kind of attack hat you may be experiencing.

Prescription migraine treatments

These include medicines like CGRP blockers, Triptans, DHE45, Ergotamine, Beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, Antidepressants, and anticonvulsants. Apart from that certain OTC medicines like Ibuprofen, Excedrin, Naproxen, Aspirin, and Acetaminophen can also prove useful.

Certain self- care steps can also help in reducing the pain and frequency of a migraine attack.

  • Relaxation techniques which include meditation and yoga and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Sleeping on time and ensuring that you do not oversleep. Also maintaining the same sleep schedule.
  • As and when you feel that a headache is approaching lie down to relax in a quiet room with no or minimal light. Wrap an ice pack in a piece of cloth and place it on the neck and area where you can feel some pain.
  • Maintain a headache diary so that you can know when and what triggers an attack for you. This can be followed even if you are consulting a doctor for further treatment.

Alternatively, some non- traditional therapies can help in reducing the intensity:

  • Acupuncture involving inserting needles at the pain spots can be a saviour.
  • Biofeedback is a technique in which you are taught how to deal with pain triggers like stress like muscle tension.
  • Massaging the area on a regular basis would reduce the incidence of a Migraine.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy can also be a big help. It changes the thoughts and manner in which you perceive the pain attack.
  • Herbs like Butterbur and Feverfew can be used as an alternative treatment though their efficacy has not been proved as such. Also, butterbur usage, in the long run, may have serious side effects.
  • Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin can be consumed in high doses to bring the pain under control. It has been noted that people who suffer from low magnesium levels may be prone to a migraine. Hence magnesium supplements can be taken to keep the problem away. You can also take Coenzyme Q10 supplements to reduce the frequency but do so only after discussion with the doctor.

A migraine when it attacks can be pretty severe and even affect the person for a considerable large amount of time. There is no major treatment of the same, and hence it is wise to prevent the triggers to get activated. When the incidence becomes high, you should consult a neurologist for advice. It could be possible that there is some other reason for a headache.

Also, the prolonged use of one particular pain reliever may make your body immune to the same, and you may not get the kind of relief that you are expecting. Therefore, it is always better to keep the triggers under control so that the problem will not affect you.

Sagar Papneja

For me, health is about sustainable living and consuming environmentally conscious food; I am a vegan.

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