03
June
2013

Migraine headaches: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Find out how to cure your worst migraine headaches

Migraine headaches are one of the most common, debilitating, and costly medical afflictions worldwide. Those who have experienced migraines report a wide range of type and severity of symptoms, and an equally varied breadth of treatment options are available. By gaining a better understanding of this condition, you might be able to improve your ability to control your own migraines or help others you know who are affected. In this article, we discuss just exactly what a migraine is and the mechanism of action, and possible treatment options you can use.
Migraine headaches are one of the most common, debilitating, and costly medical afflictions worldwide. Those who have experienced migraines report a wide range of type and severity of symptoms, and an equally varied breadth of treatment options are available. By gaining a better understanding of this condition, you might be able to improve your ability to control your own migraines or help others you know who are affected. In this article, we discuss just exactly what a migraine is and the mechanism of action, and possible treatment options you can use.
Causes
The migraine is a special type of headache that is still not properly understood by medical science. It is considered to be a neurological condition, due to the singular or combined appearance of several different phenomena related to the nervous system. These symptoms are derived from a combination of arterial vasodilation and nerve depolarization within the brain. There is certainly a genetic component in determining who is afflicted with migraines, with hereditary disease (passing from one generation to another in a family) observed in two-thirds of all cases. In addition, a variety of environmental factors known as “triggers” have been identified. Triggers can include stress, hunger, fatigue, hormonal changes such as menstruation, certain foods, and exposure to extreme light, sound, or temperature. Identifying these triggers and avoiding them is one of the best methods to prevent migraines.
Symptoms
The symptoms of a migraine are divided into three stages: the prodrome, aura, and attack.
Prodrome
This phase occurs two hours to two days before the migraine, and is reported by migraine sufferers as an indication that a migraine is coming. The symptoms can include:
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Stiff muscles (especially the neck)
  • Mood changes
  • Fatigue
  • Food cravings
Aura
The aura phase is a transient neurological manifestation that signals the onset of the attack. This phase usually builds in intensity over a few minutes, and lasts less than one hour. The symptoms of aura include
  • Visual alterations: you may see bright spots or flashes of light, blurry vision, partial vision loss, flickering, or lines
  • Tingling sensation in the arms and legs
  • Speech difficulty
Attack
The full-on migraine attack can last from four hours to 3 days. Attacks may occur once or twice in a lifetime or quite regularly, but the average is about once per month among migraine sufferers. The typical symptoms may include:
  • Pulsating, throbbing head pain, usually located on one side of the head but occasionally occurring bilaterally
  • Sensitivity to strong sounds, light, or even smells
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision or other vision changes
  • Lightheadedness
Following the culmination of the attack, a postdrome phase occurs, in which the individual feels drained and fatigued, or possibly even euphoric.
Treatment
Medical treatments for migraines involve pain relievers to abort migraine attacks once they start, and preventative treatment used to avoid attacks in individuals who suffer multiple debilitating migraines every month. Typical pain relievers such as Tylenol, Advil, and Aspirin may be effective. However, specific migraine medications have also been developed, such as triptans and ergot-based drugs. Preventative treatment strategies might involve cardiovascular drugs such as beta blockers, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs. Botulin toxin (botox) has also been showed to be effective at preventing migraines.
In terms of home care, muscle relaxation and proper eating and sleeping habits can help prevent migraines. Avoiding known triggers is another good preventative strategy. If you feel a headache coming on, it is advisable to seek out a quiet, dark space in which you can relax and deal with the pain.
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