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Migraine: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Home > Health Articles > Migraines

What is a Migraine? 

Migraine headaches are a very common occurrence in some 28 million people in the US alone. When they first start appearing, the sufferer might not be able to tell the difference between migraines and headaches. But a migraine headache is a throbbing or pulsating headache which is often one sided – it can begin in a specific area on one side of the head, then spread and build up in intensity over the next couple of hours. It may well be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or sound. Hands and feet may feel cold or sweaty. Migraine headaches can be a very debilitating condition.

Table of Contents:

Causes
Types of Migraines
Migraine Triggers
Migraines in Children
Treatment
Pain Relief
Alternative Treatments

Causes of Migraines 

Causes vary from person to person so it is important to keep track of all that happens before a migraine attack to see if there is a trend. These are some of the triggers:

  • Heat.
  • Bright or blinking lights, computer screens, fluorescent tubes and especially glare from the sun can all produce a migraine, as can other visual stimuli, like flashing lights, or eye strain.
  • Odors - whether nice or nasty.
  • Second hand cigarette smoke.
  • Foggy weather (when there is a high ozone level).
  • In addition to skipping meals or fasting, specific foods and beverages trigger migraine headaches in many people. Included are certain foods such as mozzarella cheese as well as food additives monosodium glutamate (MSG) and tyramine. (which is a chemical by-product created by protein breaking down in aged foods, like certain cheeses).
  • If you are not used to vigorous exercise, over-exertion can make it more likely that you will get a migraine.
  • Tension and stress whether negative or positive experiences. A classic migraine pattern is someone who works or studies hard all week, only to collapse with an intense migraine on the weekend after the impetus has disappeared.
  • Alcohol is another trigger - particularly red wine, sherry, and beer.
  • Chocolate, including hot chocolate and cocoa.
  • Insomnia whether through lack of sleep, too much sleep, a change in your sleeping pattern or a pillow that is too hard. Even napping or going to bed and getting up on an irregular schedule can trigger migraines for some.
  • Some women have migraines just before, during or just after menstrual periods. Changing estrogen levels are a common trigger.
  • Sometimes triggers are caused by factors over which you have no control such as the environment including changes in the barometric pressure, in altitude, temperature or humidity.

Types of Migraines

Migraine is a complex and very individual condition with many different types of migraine so that initially it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint exactly what you are suffering from. However, once the correct diagnosis has been done, you find the right symptomatic migraine treatment that works for you and you learn to control your condition, you can go on to live a normal life virtually free from attacks.

Here are some of the different types of migraine:

  • Classic migraines -are common and the distinguishing symptom is an aura a few minutes before the onset of the migraine. This aura can consist of flashing lights, seeing zigzag lines and may even include temporary vision loss. The classic migraine symptoms can include throbbing pain in the forehead, temple or jaw, speech difficulty, sudden weakness in an arm or leg, and a general feeling of confusion. This migraine type can last up to 2 days.
  • Common migraines- do not have the aura preceding the migraine attack. However other symptoms can occur before the onset and these can include mental vagueness, mood swings, fatigue, the retention of fluids, diarrhea or increased urination and nausea and vomiting. Once the migraine starts, there will be a painful throbbing headache which can be on just one side of the head. This type of migraine can last up to 4 days.
  • Hemiplegic Migraines -are a much rarer form of migraine and even come in two variations – familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM) and sporadic hemiplegic migraine (SHM). Both often start in childhood and then stop in the adult years. They can be difficult to diagnose because there is no diagnostic test available and the symptoms can be confused with other conditions (such as a stroke or epilepsy) – with paralysis on one side of the body, numbness, fever, loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, as well as a throbbing headache and an aura. This migraine type usually only lasts up to 24 hours.
  • Basilar Artery Migraines- are characterized by a disturbance of a major brain artery and the symptoms may include severe headache, vertigo, double vision, slurred speech and poor muscle coordination. This type of migraine occurs mostly in children or teens.
  • Ophthalmoplegic migraine- is where the main migraine symptom is a headache felt in the eye. There may be vomiting but as the headache continues, the eyelid droops and those nerves responsible for eye movement become paralyzed. This type of migraine may continue for days or even weeks.
  • Ocular migraines- with Ocular Migraines pain is only one possible symptom while other symptoms include nausea, congestion and visual disturbances. Strange visual disturbances, usually lasting less than an hour but with no headache usually indicate an ocular migraine.
  • Carotidynia migraines-is where extreme pain can be felt in the jaw or neck with tenderness and swelling over the carotid artery in the neck. This is more common in older people and the attacks can occur as often as several times per week. This type of migraine can last for a few minutes to up to several hours.
  • Headache-free migraine- is where the aura can occur without any headache. In addition to visual problems, there can be nausea and vomiting, constipation or diarrhea too.
  • Vestibular migraines are where there is an overlap between the symptoms of dizziness (vertigo) and the migraine itself. The room or environment can feel like it is spinning and you may experience motion sickness. A migraine headache can start before, during or after the vertigo experience. Other symptoms can include pressure, pain or ringing in the ears or muffled hearing. This vertigo in this type of migraine can last from a few minutes to an hour although in rare cases, it can last for several days or even weeks.
  • Benign exertional headaches -are a type of migraine brought on by over exertion such as by running, lifting, sneezing or bending. This type of migraine normally only lasts for a few minutes.
  • Status migraine- is fortunately a very rare type of migraine which manifests with very intense pain which can be so severe as to require hospitalization. This rare type of migraine can last for longer than 72 hours.

Migraine Triggers

If you suffer from regular migraines, there could be a link between what you eat and their occurrence. Here are some suggestions:

  • Aged or extra mature cheeses - blue cheeses, brie, cheddar, stilton, feta, gorgonzola, mozzarella, muenster, parmesan, swiss and processed cheese. These cheeses are high in tyramine.
  • Tyramine is a natural substance formed from the breakdown of protein in food when this food begins the ageing process or if food is fermented, salted or pickled. If tyramine is a trigger problem for you then all proteins should be eaten when they are young and fresh. Other foods that are high in tyramine are fava, garbanzo and lima beans, peanut butter, pepperoni, pinto beans, salami, sauerkraut, soy sauce, summer sausage, teriyaki and tofu.
  • Food additives such as nitrites and artificial food colorings increase blood flow to the brain – another migraine trigger. Harmful artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (brand names – NutraSweet, Equal) can also be triggered.
  • MSG can trigger migraine headaches as quickly as an hour after ingestion of MSG. Many people suffer from other side effects of this food additive. An example are canned soups or soups made from bouillon or based with MSG.
  • Dairy products can trigger migraines in some as the protein (known as casein) found in milk is a known allergenic. Casein creates histamines, which in turn are responsible for the production of mucus. Too much mucus puts pressure on brain membranes, triggering migraines.
  • Some migraine sufferers find that they have to be careful when they eat or drink cold foods and drinks.
  • Common triggers include: chocolate, cocoa and foods with nuts; alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer and sherry; aged, canned, cured or processed meats as well as chicken livers and other organ meats, and sardines; cultured dairy products such as sour cream or buttermilk; dried fruits including figs, raisins and dates; some fresh fruits and vegetables such as avocados, bananas, kiwi fruits, onions, raspberries, red plum, spinach, papaya, pineapple, red plum and tomatoes.- foods with meat tenderizers or yeast or yeast extracts.

Just the failure to eat can be a further trigger as anything that disrupts your body’s normal stability can cause a headache – even sleeping too long or skipping meals. Regular meals and healthy snacks help to avoid migraine occurrence.

Ironically, some over-the-counter pain relievers can actually cause migraines (if they contain caffeine) as caffeine is a powerful trigger. Pharmaceutical headache drugs can also cause “medication overuse headaches”.

Migraines in Children

Young children who suffer from the symptoms of a migraine headache are often unable to convey what is wrong with them. But you might be able to diagnose the presence of a migraine if your child frequently feels sleepy and nauseous. In fact, should he or she then go on to throw up and, soon afterwards feel better, then this is a good indication of the presence of a migraine.

It is not uncommon for young children to get migraines either as approximately twenty percent of children who do get migraines, have their first attack before the age of five. Other statistics tell us that migraines can occur in five per cent of children under the age of twelve with the figure rising to some twenty per cent in high school. In the same way that migraines are more common in females than males when adults, so it is with children although there is an age group of high incidence of migraines in boys between the ages of ten to twelve years.

The signs and symptoms of a migraine headache in young children include:

  • General feeling of being unwell with abdominal pain, vomiting and a great desire to sleep.
  • Being irritable or tearful.
  • Rocking gently or actively seeking out a dark place to curl up and rest or sleep.

Once children are older, of course, they will be able to explain their migraine headache symptoms to you more easily.

A regular routine with healthy lifestyles can mean less likelihood of migraines in children.

  • Regular healthy meals and snacks with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Avoid the infamous triggers for migraines such as cheese, processed meats, chocolate, caffeine, artificial preservatives and colorings together with anything else that seems to act as a trigger in your own child's case. Eliminate as much sugar as possible.
  • Encourage drinking plenty of pure, filtered water in place of sodas and sugary fruit juices. Diet sodas are equally harmful.
  • Ensure sufficient good quality sleep.
  • Encourage regular outside exercise, being wary of over exertion as this can sometimes trigger a migraine.

Other triggers for migraines in children include:

  • Extreme climatic changes.
  • Being overtired, stressed or depressed.
  • Any type of interrupted sleep or sleep deprivation.
  • Certain foods as mentioned above as well as irregular meals or even hunger.
  • In older children, menstrual periods or hormone fluctuations.
  • The stimulus of computer screens, flashing lights, fluorescent lighting, strong smells.

How to treat children with migraines:

  • The best treatment for migraine in children is sleep which restores normal brain function while relieving pain and other symptoms. It is strange how children will often know instinctively that they need a quiet dark place to lie down and rest.

  • From the age of 4 years, you can safely massage the safe and gently natural product, specially formulated for headaches and made from pure essential oils, onto your child's forehead, temples and neck every 15 minutes to gain almost immediate relief from the symptoms.

Of course, if you are at all concerned about migraines and your child, please take him or her to see your doctor to ensure that no other medical condition is involved. Together you can discuss how to manage the condition and any pain.

Parents are always anxious to know if their child will grow out of having migraines. They may do. One study found that headaches had improved for four out of ten childhood sufferers by the time they were 22 years of age while up 25% of childhood sufferers had outgrown the condition completely.

Migraine Treatment of Symptoms

If you are a migraineur (that is someone who suffers from migraines) you will definitely search for the best possible migraine relief you can find and especially one that works and one that suits you with the least possible side effects. There are many migraine headache relief remedies available. Migraines cannot be cured but they can be controlled. Migraine medicines can stop the pain but they are only part of a wellness program. You need to learn about the triggers that may be initiating the process leading to your migraine.

Conventional Treatment of Migraines

Migraine headache relief usually comes in the form of preventative medications used to reduce the number of attacks for individuals that have two or more migraines per month. Examples of some of the prescribed preventative medications are beta-blockers, antidepressants, and divalproex sodium. Many migraineurs who take preventative medications also take medication to treat the severity of the migraine symptoms. These include over the counter medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin. Newer forms of medication – triptans, help manage the source of migraine pain by reducing swelling of the blood vessels in the brain and reducing inflammation, thus helping alleviate migraine pain.

Not all migraineurs are happy about ingesting chemical substances regularly into their systems and look for alternatives or a more natural migraine relief.

There are different types of alternative and natural migraine relief:

  • Homeopathy is a natural solution for symptomatic migraine relief. It is free of the side effects of conventional medicines and safe for everyone.
  • Natural products are another solution for the relief of the symptoms of migraines. A few drops of H-Headaches applied to your forehead, neck and temples can be very effective. Most migraine symptoms will disappear immediately.
  • Acupuncture involves insertion and manipulation of fine needles at various, prescribed body-pressure points. For many migraine sufferers, acupuncture can offer relief and a better quality of life.
  • Migraine Bekool is a very effective over the counter but natural product for the immediate cooling and soothing relief from migraine symptoms. It is a cool compress which can be used during an attack. It can be used to give relief while waiting for your normal medication to take effect when suffering from a severe migraine or can even be used on its own for a mild migraine attack.
  • Chiropractic methods are used by some migraine sufferers who find they have positive results. This is a holistic approach to pain relief through massage, spinal manipulation and periodic adjustment of joints and soft tissue.
  • Migrelief is a fairly new natural product that combines the three best known alternative migraine treatments – magnesium, the vitamin Riboflavin and a special source of the herb Feverfew into one easy to take dietary supplement. This has been found to be an effective alternative program for many migraine sufferers to add to their health care.
  • Migraine Prevent is a nutraceutical product offering the migraine sufferer a preventative treatment combining the 4 best researched vitamins, minerals, and/or nutritional supplements that have been studied for migraines. It is recommended by the manufacturers that migraine sufferers take 2 capsules per day to prevent the onset of migraines and their symptoms.

Migraine Pain Relief

For many people migraine is not just an occasional headache but a debilitating condition that can impact on the quality of life for both the sufferer and those around them. It is therefore very important for both the occasional sufferer and the more chronic sufferer to find migraine pain relief.

Over the counter migraine pain relief

If you don’t want to go to your doctor about migraine pain relief, then your pharmacist can be an important ally in your battle against migraine pain. He will be aware of the new over the counter migraine medications now available for migraine relief and these can be very effective especially if taken very early in the attack. It is important to take pain killers quickly as, during an attack, gastric stasis can occur and then the medication cannot be absorbed from your gut into the bloodstream. In addition, if you leave it too long, nausea can set it and you may vomit up the medication as soon as you take it. Painkillers taken in soluble form or tablets taken with a sweet fizzy drink will start to work more quickly.

Prescription migraine pain relief

If you find that you are not controlling your migraine pain through other means, then visit your doctor who can prescribe stronger painkillers or painkillers that are combined with anti-nausea ingredients. He will know about possible side effects and whether a particular prescription drug will be suitable for you. If you suffer from frequent attacks, he may prescribe a preventative medication for daily use. As such preventative medications can take some time to build up a beneficial result (up to three months) and even then do not entirely eliminate migraine attacks, he will need to prescribe a further medication for taking should an attack occur.

migraine treatment

Natural and alternative ways of dealing with migraine pain

There are some other ways of dealing with migraine pain such as:

  • Natural topical products:  These are used to treat migraine symptoms, most of which will disappear as the formula targets the blood vessels easing the restrictions which cause the migraine headaches.
  • Acupuncture which involves the insertion and manipulation of fine needles at various, prescribed body pressure points. This method can offer relief and a better quality of life for many sufferers.
  • Chiropractic methods are used by some migraine sufferers who find they have positive results from this holistic approach to migraine pain relief.

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