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Living with Migraine: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Many of us get simple headaches now and then. However, some of these ailments can be more severe and end up being a migraine. One billion of the global population suffers from the condition, with about 39 million Americans having it.

While migraine can get in the way of your daily activities, you can still minimize its effects, manage its symptoms, and reduce its episodes with various remedies. Here’s a look at what this condition is and how you can deal with it properly.

What is a Migraine?

A migraine headache is an intense, recurring headache with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. It can also trigger sensory changes called auras before or with a headache. Unlike typical headaches, migraines happen in phases that can last for days. These phases can vary and may not be experienced by everyone. Migraine episodes also vary in triggers, severity, symptoms, and frequency. For example, you could get an extreme headache from the food you eat, and it might last for several days.

What Does a Migraine Feel Like?

A migraine can manifest as an intense, throbbing headache or have a pulsing sensation. The effects and their respective intensities can differ from one person to another.

What Causes Migraine Headaches?

While there might be a link between migraines and changes in your brain with genetics, doctors have yet to discover what triggers the condition. Scientists previously regarded changes in the blood flow in the brain as the number one reason for migraines. Now, they believe that nerve cell signals activating the trigeminal nerve triggers this throbbing headache.

The following factors can increase your risk for migraines:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family history
  • Existing conditions like depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and fibromyalgia

You could also get a migraine from triggers such as:

  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Stress
  • Certain kinds of food, including aged cheese, alcohol, and additives
  • An irregular eating schedule
  • Caffeine
  • Changes in the weather
  • Sensations like loud noises, bright lights, and strong smells
  • Specific medications
  • Physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Changes to your sleep

What are the Symptoms of a Migraine?

As we’ve mentioned, migraine headaches occur in stages. Let’s look at each of these phases and which symptoms you should look out for.

Prodrome

The prodrome stage involves symptoms that happen before a headache. During this phase, you might experience the following:

  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or smell
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Food cravings or loss of appetite
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Extreme thirst
  • The feeling of being bloated
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Aura

If you have a migraine, your nervous system can cause symptoms called auras. These will mostly affect your vision and last for less than an hour. Some signs that come with auras include:

  • Images such as black dots, wavy lines, or flashes of light
  • Hallucinations or tunnel vision
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Numbness or tingling on one side of your body
  • Unclear speech
  • A heavy feeling in your arms and legs
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Changes in smell, taste, and touch

Attack

At this stage, you may feel a dull ache that can become throbbing pain. Physical activity can increase the severity of this attack, so limiting your movement is the best way to decrease discomfort.

During an attack, you can expect the pain to:

  • Start in one side of your head and spread to another side;
  • Occur in the front of your head; or
  • Feel like it’s within your entire head.

A migraine attack can also come with the following symptoms:

  • Nausea with a headache
  • Vomiting
  • A clogged or stuffy nose
  • Neck pain
  • Dizziness
  • Pale or sweaty skin
  • Fainting

Postdrome

The postdrome stage happens after a headache. You may be in this phase for up to a day and experience the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue or irritability
  • An unusual burst of energy or happiness
  • Aching or weak muscles
  • Cravings for certain foods or no appetite

What are the Different Types of Migraines?

Migraines have multiple types and can be experienced simultaneously. These other migraine headaches include:

Migraine without aura

This type of migraine doesn’t cause auras and is characterized by:

  • A headache that lasts for four to 72 hours without any or effective treatment
  • A headache with at least two of the following characteristics:
    • Occurring on one side of the head
    • Throbbing pain
    • Moderate or extreme pain
    • Pain that increases with physical activity
  • A headache that causes sensitivity to light and sound, nausea (with or without vomiting), or diarrhea
  • A headache that doesn’t stem from another health issue or diagnosis

Menstrual migraine

Women can usually get a menstrual migraine with or without an aura. This type of migraine can occur:

  • Before, during, or after menstruation
  • During ovulation

Unlike the typical migraine, menstrual migraines are more severe and persistent, and cause significant nausea. Standard migraine and serotonin-related medications and hormonal treatments can help ease the symptoms of menstrual migraines.

Silent (acephalgic) migraine

If you have a silent or acephalgic migraine, you’ll experience an aura without a headache. This type of migraine often causes visual aura symptoms that occur over several minutes. Other symptoms of a silent migraine include:

  • Numbness
  • Incoherent speech
  • Weakness
  • Limited movement

Vestibular migraine

A vestibular migraine can come with or without a headache. This type of migraine is often experienced by those who have motion sickness. Its symptoms include:

  • Balance problems
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Abdominal migraine

An abdominal migraine is commonly experienced by children and can have the following symptoms:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sensitivity to light or sound

While this type of migraine has distinct symptoms, it still has limited information as to what causes it and what other factors contribute to it.

Hemiplegic migraine

With a hemiplegic migraine, you may experience:

  • Brief paralysis
  • Weakness on one side of your body
  • Numbness
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in your vision

These symptoms could also mean that you’re experiencing a stroke. In this case, you should see your doctor immediately.

Ophthalmic migraine

An ophthalmic, ocular, or retinal migraine affects your eyes. If you’ve been diagnosed with this condition, one of your eyes may experience temporary, partial, or complete loss of vision. You may feel a dull ache behind your eyes as well. Severe cases of ophthalmic migraine involve pain spreading to other parts of your head.

Migraine with brainstem aura

Adolescent women are often diagnosed with this type of migraine. Signs of this ailment include:

  • Dizziness, confusion, or loss of balance before a headache
  • Pain in the back of your head
  • Speech problems
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Vomiting

Status migrainosus

Status migrainosus is a more extreme form of migraine that can occur due to different medications or failing to take one’s prescriptions. Status migrainosus can last over 72 hours and cause highly severe pain and nausea. People experiencing this type of migraine often need proper medical attention.

Ophthalmoplegic migraine

Like ophthalmic migraine, ophthalmoplegic migraine affects your eyes. Pressure on the nerves behind your eye or an aneurysm can trigger symptoms of this condition. Some warning signs to look out for include:

  • Pain around your eye, including paralyzed muscles
  • Droopy eyelids
  • Double vision

How Long Does a Migraine Last?

The duration of a migraine depends on its severity. You can experience symptoms for around four hours for milder conditions, while severe migraines can last for three days.

Migraine headaches can also occur multiple times within a specific period. Most people get two to four headaches every month, while others can experience migraines every few days.

How Can You Ease The Effects of Migraine?

As of now, migraines don’t have a straightforward cure. Fortunately, you can manage this condition with any of these remedies:

Medicine

Helpful medications for migraine include:

  • Pain relievers like naproxen, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen
  • Triptans (medicine for brain changes during a migraine)
  • Antiemetics (medications to help with nausea and vomiting)
  • Gepants or calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) blockers
  • Ditans (targeting 5-HT1F receptors on your sensory nerves and blood vessels) 

Home remedies

Any of the home remedies below can help you relieve symptoms of a migraine.

  • Flexible cold packs or masks
  • Rest in a quiet and dim room
  • Sleep

Natural remedies or alternative treatments

You can try natural remedies or alternative treatments as well. They can include:

  • Supplements like herbal extracts, magnesium, and riboflavin
  • Acupuncture
  • Neck exercises
  • Physical therapy

We recommend talking with your doctor first to know if these home remedies are safe and appropriate for your migraines.

Keep Migraine At Bay & Stay Healthy

A migraine can put your life on hold, but by understanding how the condition can affect you, you can find the right remedies to deal with it properly. 

Dr. Reza Alizadeh

Dr. Reza is the visionary behind LifeClinic. His leadership is the foundation for the patient and team member experience, and overall direction of the LifeClinic. As the creator of IMJT, Dr. Reza continues to be the primary teacher on this technique.

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