Migraines: Things You Should Know About
|Migraines: Things You Should Know About|
Most of us use the word Migraine to describe a bad headache, but in actual fact, Migraines are far more complex than that. A migraine is a ‘primary headache’ – meaning it is not a symptom of another problem, such as a cold. For sufferers, migraines are severely debilitating.
Migraine is not as common as we might think, with only 15% of the UK population suffering migraines. Anyone can be a sufferer – from a baby to an elderly person, although it is more common in the productive years. Two-thirds of sufferers are women. An attack can last anywhere from a few hours to 72 hours; the sufferer will often be left feeling listless and drained for a few days afterward, however.
The cause of migraines is not fully understood. Until a few years ago it was assumed that migraine was caused by a spasm followed by a sudden dilation of the blood vessels in the brain, but now it is understood to be more complex. The effect of changing levels of a hormone called Seratonin in the body which in turn affects the blood vessels in the brain is now thought to be significant.
The actual headache is common or classic, depending on the presence of an aura. The ‘common’ migraine is one without an aura and the ‘classic’ is with an aura. An aura is like a warning sign sent from the brain before a headache, and although it can be a range of sensations, it is commonly zigzag lines or blindspots in vision or even numbness of the limbs. This can occur anything from 15 minutes to an hour before the headache.
Sufferers' symptoms range from person to person, but several ‘classic’ symptoms seem to be generic to everyone. The major symptom is an intense, throbbing headache, often only on one side of the head. The headache is often accompanied by other common symptoms:
- nausea and/or vomiting
- An increased sensitivity to light
- An increased sensitivity to sound
- An increased sensitivity to smell
- When having a migraine, sufferers will want to rest in a quiet, darkened room.
Whilst we know the chemical reaction responsible for migraines, we are not sure of the triggers responsible for causing that reaction to start. For most people, several triggers are needed to combine to start the reaction that causes a migraine. These triggers are as unique to the person as their symptoms, but commonly include emotional and physical stress causing a change in to a person's routine, a change in an environment including exposure to bright lights and noises, and hormonal change in women.
Food and diet also seem to play an important role in migraine sufferers. We have all heard of cheese starting migraines, but foods such as caffeine, additives, and red wine are also common triggers. For migraine sufferers, it seems particularly important to eat regularly and avoid dehydration.
There are over-the-counter and prescription drugs available to treat an attack once it has started. For people with frequent attacks (more than 1 a week), preventative drugs are available on prescription but need to be taken regularly for around 6 months and rarely eliminate attacks completely. Because of the adverse long-term effects of many of these medications, sufferers are increasingly looking to minimize triggers in their lives and seek alternatives through complementary therapy.