What is migraine headache?
Migraine is more than just a bad headache. It’s a neurological disease that is usually accompanied by a severe throbbing, recurring headache usually on one side of the head but may impact both sides of the head to a lesser degree. They tend to last from a few hours up to a few days or more at a time.
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world and impacts more than 12% of the US population - approximately 37 million men, women and children and as much as 1 billion people around the world.
Women are 3 times more likely to suffer migraine attacks than men. Most people experience migraine between the ages of 18-44 and the symptoms generally decline by the age of 50.
What causes migraine headache?
For many years researchers thought migraine was caused by the way blood flows in the brain. More and more researchers today are beginning to suspect that it may be caused by certain mutations in the brain even though there are no solid evidence to back this claim.
The headaches you experience from migraine is just one symptom of this debilitating neurological disease and much more research is needed to find the missing link.
We know that a migraine is triggered when an overactive nerve cell sends a signal that activates the nerve that supplies sensation to the head and face – the trigeminal nerve. Once this nerve is activated, chemicals such as serotonin and calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) are released into the blood resulting in the swelling of the blood vessels that line the brain. This swelling then release neurotransmitters that result in inflammation and pain.
What can trigger a migraine headache?
Foods & Drinks. Aged cheese, alcohol, nitrites in in pepperoni, hot dogs, lunch meats and mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) may be responsible for up to 30% of migraines.
Caffeine. Consuming too much caffeine or the withdrawal that occurs from an abrupt decline in caffeine in the body often trigger a migraine.
Stress. Stress causes the body to release chemicals that results in the constriction or dilation of the blood vessels, enough to trigger a migraine.
Weather changes. Strong winds, changes in altitude, changes in barometric pressure, powerful winds and storms can trigger a migraine.
Having your monthly period causes hormonal changes in the body which may trigger a migraine.
Tiredness can trigger a migraine.
Skipping meals can trigger a migraine.
Changes in sleep pattern can trigger a migraine.
Are migraine headaches hereditary?
Yes. According to a study done by the migraine research foundation, 90% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraine.
While most persons experience attacks only once or twice per month, in excess of 4 million persons have chronic daily migraine with a minimum of 15 migraine days per month.
Top symptoms of migraine headache
Migraine headache symptoms come in many forms. The most common ones include:
- A minor headache that quickly explodes into a massive throbbing pain, that may get worse with physical activities. The pain may start on one side of the head but may spread to the other side over time.
- A loss of appetite
- Sensitivity to noise, light and smells
- Belly ache, upset stomach, nausea and vomiting
- Hot or cold feeling
- Blurred vision
According to the migraine research foundation, one American visit the emergency room every 10 seconds complaining of head pain, and approximately 1.2 million visits are for acute migraine attacks. More than 90% of people are unable to work or function normally during a migraine attack.
Types of migraine headaches
There are 2 types of migraine headaches.
An aura refers to the symptoms that precedes the attack and may start 1 hour before the pain and can last a few minutes to an hour.
Visual auras may include:
Auras that impact other senses may result in a an indistinct “funny feeling”, a bad taste in the mouth, a ringing of the ears or a tingling sensation among other things.
Rare migraine headaches
Below is a list of rare migraine conditions and the aura that precedes them:
Hemiplegic migraine. This involves a brief period of paralysis (hemiplegia) or a strange weakness on one side of the body. You might also feel a temporary numbness, dizziness, or vision changes. If you see these symptoms, it’s important to diffrentiate them from the signs of a stroke, which can seem similar. Get emergency medical help right away if you have these symptoms.
Ophthalmic migraine. Brief, partial, or complete loss of vision in one eye, along with a slight ache behind the eye, which may spread to the rest of your head. Seek immediate medical help for any visual disturbance.
Migraine with brainstem aura. The attack is preceded by dizziness, confusion, or loss of balance. The pain is usually concentrated in the back of your head. Symptoms usually start suddenly and can happen precipitate difficulty speaking, ringing in the ears, and vomiting. Studied show that this type of migraine is strongly linked to hormone changes and mainly affects young adult women. See your doctor immediately if you have these symptoms.
Status migrainosus. This is a rare and severe type of migraine can last for more than 72 hours. The pain and nausea are so intense that you may need to be hospitalized. Sometimes medicines, or medication withdrawal, can trigger this attack.
Ophthalmoplegic migraine. This attack is preceded by pain around the eye which includes some degree of paralysis of the muscles around it. Since these symptoms can also be caused by pressure on the nerves behind the eye or an aneurysm, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention. Other symptoms of this rare type of migraine include a droopy eyelid, double vision, or other vision changes.
Migraine treatment options
There is no known cure for migraine headaches. As we learn more about the disease through ongoing research, we may be able to better manage the illness and offer hope to over 1 billion migraine sufferers around the globe.
Here is a list of the most common treatment to date:
Pain relief. There are many Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that work well for some people. The main ingredients in these medication are acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine, and ibuprofen. Aspirin should never be given to anyone under the age of 19 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Special care should be exercised with OTC pain medication since they can sometimes add to a headache. Overuse can cause rebound headaches, or you may become dependent on them. If you find that you are taking any OTC pain relievers more than two days a week, it's time to see your doctor.
Preventive medicines. If you have 4 or more migraine days a month and you don’t respond to other treatments, your doctor may suggest preventative medicine. You take them on a regular basis to reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches. They may include seizure medicines, blood pressure medicines (like beta blockers and calcium channel blockers), and some antidepressants
Nausea medication. Your doctor may prescribe these medication is you get nausea with your migraine.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). This is an electromagnetic device that is placed on the back of your head to stimulate the nerve cells at the start of a migraine with aura and may be used to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when all other procedures have failed.
Biofeedback: This is a mind-body technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback techniques to help you gain control over certain involuntary bodily functions. This may include gaining voluntary control over things such as heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception, and blood pressure and yes, migraine attacks.
New devices for migraine relief
Thanks to the work of countless professionals and organizations such as the migraine research foundation, the national headache foundation and the American migraine foundation, our knowledge of migraine and its causes is increasing daily. In response, we have seen new devices becoming available that are very effective in preventing and treating migraine. One of the most promising ones is the migraine relief electrode.
The migraine relief electrode
The migraine relief electrodes work by using electromagnetic pulses to stimulate the trigeminal nerve. This relaxes the nerve thereby reducing the headaches. The electrode is applied to the forehead and each electrode can be used up to 20 times (12 times for Blue Gel electrodes).
It is very important to cleanse and degrease the forehead skin, so the that the electrode will effectively stick to the skin. The skin can be cleansed with soap and water. After use, the electrode should be returned to its clear plastic backing strip and stored in its pouch to prevent the device from drying out.