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What You Need to Know About Migraine Headaches

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What is a Migraine?

Migraines are extremely painful headaches that affect millions of North Americans. When the nerve cells in your brain set off your brain’s blood vessels, they constrict and release. The inflammatory hormones that become active as a result, such as serotonin, prostaglandins and other substances, increase the pain of the pulsing blood vessels. A tension headache, when it is more extreme in pain and intensity, can sometimes be mistaken for a migraine headache. The distinctive characteristics of a migraine headache include:

  • Sharp throbbing pain on one side of the head
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sound/volume sensitivity
  • Intense to severe pain
  • Blurred vision or eye pain
  • Visual or sensory aura
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden depression or elation
  • Tearing and sinus symptoms
  • Neck pain and stiffness

Note that migraine headaches can feel like your whole head is in pain, or it can be localized to one side and also transfer over to the other side. Since cluster headaches, which are different, can also cause painful headaches on one side of the head, pay attention to whether your headache always occurs at the same time every day and how long it lasts. If it does regularly happen at the same, and lasts for about an hour, it is likely a cluster headache rather than a migraine.

Before the Migraine

Some people may notice that they commonly experience warning signs that a migraine is about to occur. This can be helpful to pay attention to as it may help you take the appropriate medication in time to minimize the migraine’s effects, or you can remove yourself from an environment that you know can aggravate your migraine further. Some signs that your body may give you that a migraine is coming include frequent yawning, fatigue, frequent urination and troubled speech. Besides physical nudges that a migraine is on its way, there are also more external or situational triggers that you may find you are especially sensitive to. For instance, some people are more prone to migraines when there is a change in weather conditions. For others, they are more reactive to certain foods or drinks.

nov6-2If you know that there are certain triggers that lead to a higher frequency of migraines for you, do your best to remedy those areas if possible. For example, people who live with migraine can suffer poor sleep. Unfortunately it may be a negative cycle of insomnia caused by migraine pain and in turn the lack of good sleep can trigger more migraines and other health issues. Do your best to optimize your sleep conditions so that it is as easy as possible to get the good rest that your body needs. Minimize your caffeine, get black-out curtains, and find out what will help you sleep.

Another example of migraine triggers that may be more specific to certain individuals is activity that induces migraines. The physical exertion of going up a flight of stairs, exercising or sexual activity can lead to migraines for some. If this applies to you, do talk to a healthcare professional and inquire into what tests may help identify any correlation between physical activity and migraines for you.

dec7-2One of the top causes of migraine headaches is stress. Know that stress absolutely shows up in physical and tangible ways in your body. Emotional stress is not just a feeling or worried thoughts. Stress releases chemicals in your body, causes muscle tension, and can definitely cause or intensify a migraine headache. If you are sensitive to stress, or have stressful factors in your life, it is important to make changes to how you respond and cope to stress, as well as to situations themselves.

How to Treat Migraines

There are two different kinds of migraine medications. Abortive medications (such as Frova) are prescription drugs you can take when you feel a migraine coming on, or when it has already begun. Ask your doctor about different types and methods of abortive migraine drugs. The options include nasal spray, injection, skin patch, or orally ingested medication. Abortive meds are best for those who experience heavy nausea or vomiting with their migraines.

The other migraine treatment is preventative medication, which is best for people who suffer from chronic migraines or from extreme migraines where the symptoms disrupt everyday routine. Preventative migraine drugs, like Timolol, can be taken daily to help minimize the degree and frequency of migraines.

Talk to your doctor about the best medicinal, dietary and lifestyle approaches for you.

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