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Everything you need to know about migraine & Its Symptoms

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Most certainly, you would have experienced the distress of a headache, sometime in your life. Remember the throbbing, sharp pain that disrupts your routine and does not seem to get any better? Now double the intensity and time of that pain and what you get is a headache disorder called migraine. Migraine headache affects nearly 1 billion people across the globe. It is a condition characterized by repetitive debilitating headaches, scaling from moderate to severe. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine headache is the third most common illness in the world. Despite such high incidence, there is little understanding of migraine symptoms, causes and treatment. 

In this article, Dr Tushar Tayal, a leading internal medicine specialist, explores what is a migraine and what are the migraine symptoms

What is a migraine? 

Migraine is a very common disorder. It is a neurological condition that causes extreme pain and a pulsing sensation at one side of the head may last for several hours and may extend up to days.

A migraine is more than just a headache as it generally follows after an aura of sensory disturbances. These aura disturbances include:

  • Nausea
  • Difficulty in speaking difficulty
  • Hyperactivity
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, sound or smell

The pain is known to worsen if the patient is involved in any type of physical exertion. Migraine tends to affect people aged between 15 to 55 years.

What are the different types of migraines?

Migraine meaning can be classified into two main types which depend on whether the patient suffers from sensory impairment or disturbances. These disturbances are known as aura. Hence, the types of migraine include: 

Migraines with aura

These symptoms act as warnings for many patients and signal the onsets of migraines. An aura is characterised by various sensory disturbances which include:

  • Confusing thoughts
  • Strange sparkling spots (visionary)
  • Zigzag lines (visionary) 
  • Blind spots or even temporary loss of vision

Migraines without aura

As the name suggests, under this category, a patient does not feel any aura impairments or sensations. Nearly 70% to 90% of people experience migraines without any sensory disturbance or aura. 

However, even in migraines without aura, a person undergoes the onset or the beginning of the migraine attack and experience symptoms one or two days before. This state is known as the prodrome stage

Besides a classification based on aura, types of migraines are further divided. There are a few other types of migraine that are related to specific syndrome and triggers.

  • Chronic Migraine: When migraine attacks occur over 15 days of a month.
  • Menstrual Migraine: When the migraine attack is somehow related to the pattern of the menstrual cycle. 
  • Hemiplegic Migraine: When migraine temporarily weakens one side of the body.
  • Abdominal Migraine: This is a syndrome that connects a migraine attack to dysfunction of gut and abdomen.
  • Migraine with brainstem aura:  A very rare type of migraine that can cause severe neurological symptoms.
  • Acephalgic Migraine: Also referred to as silent migraines, this type of migraine occurs with headaches. However, symptoms like Aura still prevail.

While it is important to learn about the symptoms, you should not self-diagnose your condition. It is highly recommended to see a doctor if the headaches follow a migraine pattern.

What are the common migraine symptoms?

Migraine symptoms vary from their type and stage of the onset of the headache. 

The common migraine symptoms in the prodrome stage include:

  • Food craving
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Frequent yawns
  • Neck stiffness

In migraine with aura, some sensory difficulties are experienced by the patient after the prodrome stage. During Aura sensory organs are affected with impairment in vision, movement, hearing, speech and/ or sensation. Common migraine headache symptoms with aura include:

  • Difficulty in speaking
  • The illusion of seeing shapes bright spots or flashes
  • Tingling sensation
  • Temporary loss of vision (severe symptom and should not be ignored)

The notorious migraine pain occurs afterwards. This stage is called the Attack phase. The most severe of all phases for which migraine is known. This phase can last up to hours or even days. Symptoms seen in this phase can vary from person to person. Some of the most common migraine symptoms of the attack phase include:

  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Pulsing head pain
  • Vomiting
  • Pain on one side of the head, either left, right, front, back or in temples

After the attack, the patient generally experiences what is called the postdrome phase. Changes in mood and feelings are experienced during this phase. This can range from elated and happy to fatigued and apathetic with a mild and dull headache.

The duration and degree of these phases vary from person to person. It is not unusual for a phase to skip and it is completely possible that an attack may occur without any headache. 

What are migraine causes?

The migraine causes are not fully understood yet. But apparently, the cause is a mix of genetics and environmental factors that play a major role and can be considered reasons for migraine

Abnormal brain activities may result in migraine pain. This affects the way nerves communicate and may cause a chemical imbalance. This imbalance includes a decrease in brain chemical known as serotonin. Genetics and allergies also seem to play a big role. In the above two-third of the cases, migraine runs through the family.

What are the triggers for a migraine attack?

A migraine trigger is any environmental change, external stimulus or physical act that results in a migraine headache. Many triggers are responsible and reasons for migraine attack which includes:

  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes act as a trigger in women. Fluctuations in estrogen levels due to menstrual periods, pregnancy and/or menopause transitions seem to trigger acute headaches. It may worsen due to the use of hormonal medications, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. 
  • Drinks: Certain beverages, especially the one which contain alcohol or caffeine, like wine, coffee or energy drinks can trigger a migraine in men and women. 
  • Foods: Certain food items are known to trigger migraines like aged cheese and salty processed food. Using some artificial sweeteners or even skipping meals can trigger migraines. 
  • Stress: One of the most popular triggers of migraines is stress. Stress and tension at home or workplace are widely known factors that can cause migraines. 
  • Medications: Oral contraceptives can cause hormonal imbalance and vasodilators
  • Physical factors: Involvement in intense physical exertion might trigger a headache. And so, can change in sleep patterns or missing sleep. Sometimes too much sleep and jet lag can also trigger migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli: Exposure to bright light such as sun glare, loud sound or a strong smell can trigger a migraine. 

What is migraine treatment?

There is no single cure for migraines and the treatment may vary from person to person. It is highly recommended to see a doctor if you see any of the symptoms mentioned above or if your headache follows a migraine pattern. 

Migraine treatment helps in preventing a full-blown attack. Sometimes migraine may alleviate merely with some changes in lifestyle and daily habits but sometimes it may need surgery to cure. The best way to deal with migraine is to consult a doctor and get it diagnosed.

How to cure migraine permanently? 

Medical treatment and lifestyle modifications, combined can help in getting rid of a migraine. Some lifestyle changes may help with a migraine which includes: 

  • Getting enough and good quality sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Regular mild exercise
  • Eating gluten-free

Generally, migraine medication is also advised as a course of treatment. Always consult a doctor before starting any kind of migraine medication.

What is the difference between headache and migraine? 

The primary difference is the fact that migraine is a headache disorder. It is one of the many types of headache. Generally, a headache is felt in the head, face or upper neck area. While migraine headache is felt mostly at one side of the head.  

The concluding note 

A migraine headache can be a draining experience and consume several hours or even days of your life. It is important to educate yourself about the fundamentals of migraine to seek effective migraine treatment

For more information or personalised guidance, book an appointment with Dr Tushar Tayal, a leading internal medicine specialist or call us at +91 124 4882248. 

FAQs

Ques: Can migraine go away on its own?

Ans: Yes, it is possible that a migraine headache may subside on its own. However, if your headache is severely affecting your daily life, you must seek clinical help. 

Ques: How can I get rid of a migraine fast?

Ans: You can apply a cold or hot compress on your head, dim the lights around you and drink plenty of water to help get rid of a migraine. 

Ques: Which foods can relieve migraine?

Ans: Some well-known foods that can help relieve migraine include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, brown rice, and more. 

Ques: What should be avoided during a migraine?

Ans: You should identify and avoid your migraine triggers such as aged cheeses, alcohol and caffeine.