Migraine Headaches

Migraines affect millions of Americans, and are three times as common in women as in men. They can be debilitating in many cases, because headaches associated with migraine attacks are usually much more severe than regular headaches. Although there is no cure for migraine, there are therapies and medications that can help you manage attacks.
Migraine is a medical condition that usually involves severe headaches that happen periodically. Migraine symptoms differ from other headaches in the following ways:
  • sometimes they are preceded by an aura
  • vision problems, including flashing lights or zigzag lines
  • intense throbbing pain
  • pain is often on one side of the head
  • often migraine includes sensitivity to light and sound
  • headache can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting  
Regular headaches are generally vascular, meaning that blood vessels swell and press on nerves that cause pain. Migraines differ from regular headaches in that they may be caused by nerve problems, also, brain chemistry clearly plays a role. Research on migraine continues, because we really know very little about them.
However, there are often triggers which cause a migraine attack for a given person. These triggers are often not very specific, or must act in combination. Some example triggers are:
  • too much or too little sleep
  • skipped meals or poor diet
  • loud noises, strong smells, or bright lights
  • hormone changes due to your menstrual cycle
  • stress
  • caffeine or alcohol
  • specific types of food or substances in food  
To determine your own triggers, you should keep a migraine diary with the time it started, the point in your menstrual cycle, and what you ate and drank over the previous 24 hours.
You should talk to your doctor if you have:
  • severe headaches that occur several times a month
  • they are accompanied by nausea or vomiting
  • they disrupt your daily life  
You should get your headaches diagnosed even if they are not caused by migraine, as regular headaches can be a sign of a more serious problem.
Generally, the medications that work for regular headaches are not very effective for migraines, and vice versa. There are treatments which help prevent migraine, and treatments to deal with the pain when having an attack.
Treatments to help prevent migraine are:
  • medicines such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants or beta-blockers can be effective when taken daily
  • lifestyle changes which involve limiting or avoiding known triggers  
Treatments for pain relief during an attack include over-the-counter pain relief medicines such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen, as well as a range of prescription medications which help moderate your brain chemistry.
When you have an attack, take steps to reduce its effects:
  • take any migraine medicine you have right away
  • try to drink some water or other fluids
  • if possible, find a dark quiet room to lie down in until the attack passes  
After a migraine, you will probably feel exhausted for hours. Try to rest and avoid stress for the rest of the day.
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