Migraines are extraordinarily common; the Migraine Research Foundation states that nearly 1 in 4 U.S. households have a family member who has suffered from a migraine before. Moreover, approximately 12% of the population suffers from migraines. The truth is, a migraine is much more than just a bad headache; it is actually a neurological disease that can be extremely debilitating and disruptive to your life.
It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of a migraine so you can learn how to effectively prevent and treat it. Every individual may experience some or all of these symptoms with moderate to severe intensity.
If you suffer from migraines, it is recommended to keep a journal so you can track what you did that led up to the migraine, possibly triggering it. For example, do you notice that eating a certain food oftentimes produces a migraine? A few migraine triggers that make a migraine more likely to occur include:
- – Alcohol
- – Certain foods or smells
- – Certain medications
- – Changes in weather
- – Dehydration
- – Lack of sleep or too much sleep
- – Menstruation
- – Stress
In addition, some people may have a genetic predisposition to migraines called familial hemiplegic migraine. However, this is difficult to diagnose as it cannot be detected by a genetic test. Oftentimes, an experienced physician can diagnose this based on your personal and family history.
1. Migraines Can Last Hours to Days
One major difference between a common headache and a migraine is the length of time they last. While a typical headache can last an hour to a few hours, a migraine usually lasts between four to 72 hours, if left untreated. Migraines typically occur in 4-5 stages:
- – Warning stage (mood changes, stiffening neck, increased thirst and food cravings)
- – Aura and other visual disturbances (does not occur for everyone)
- – Headache stage
- – Resolution stage
- – Recovery stage (feeling of exhaustion or relief and other mood changes)
Note, not everyone will go through these stages, it is unique to each individual.
2. Frequently One-Sided
Did you know that the word ‘migraine’ is derived from the Latin word ‘hemicrania’, meaning “pain on one side of your head?” Having a throbbing pain on one side of your head is often a tell-tale migraine symptom as 60-70% of all people with a migraine experience it on one side. The pain may begin on one side of your head, or behind your eyes, and then continue to spread.
It’s important to note, that if you are experiencing a severe headache but it is not occurring on just one side of your head, you may still have a migraine. Each symptom is unique from person to person so this does not rule out a migraine.
3. Sensitivity to Light and Noise
Moderate to severe sensitivities to light happen when overactive nerve cells in your brain cause inflammation to occur in your blood vessels, which produces the throbbing pain you feel. People who encounter migraines may have the urge to lay down in complete silence and darkness, as any light or noise seems to intensify the headache. This is another hallmark migraine symptom as approximately 80% of people with a migraine also report light and sound sensitivities.
4. Visual Disturbances and Nausea
Around 25% of people who experience a migraine will also experience an “aura.” A migraine aura is a non-permanent neurological syndrome that can range in appearance from flashes of light, zig-zags or blurred and blind spots in your vision. For many, a migraine aura is the first warning sign of the onset of the migraine and strikes within an hour before it occurs. Typically, a migraine aura begins in the center of your field of vision and expands outward.
Nausea is another common sign that you are experiencing a migraine. The reason why nausea and migraines are correlated is not yet clear.
If you are experiencing a migraine aura for the first time, it is important to see your doctor as these symptoms can also be the sign of a more serious condition, such as a stroke.
Preventing a Migraine
Besides over the counter or prescribed medication, there are things you can do at home to prevent the onset of a migraine. In addition, creating a calm environment can help keep your migraines at bay. When experiencing a migraine, sound and sight sensitivities can be severe. Lay down in a peaceful environment that is free of any bright lights and close your eyes. Sleeping can help relieve migraine symptoms.
Recommendations for preventing a migraine from the Mayo Clinic include:
- Drink caffeine: Drinking a moderate amount of caffeine can decrease early migraine symptoms and enhance the effects of pain-relievers (if you took them).
- Get regular sleep: Migraines can be triggered by getting too little or too much sleep. Try to relax at the end of the day and stick to a strict sleep schedule that is right for you.
- Eat well: Skipping meals can trigger a migraine; be mindful of what and when you’re eating. Again, certain foods can also produce a migraine. Keep a migraine diary where you can monitor if there are any food patterns that are the cause.
- Manage stress: Stress can produce migraines. Try to unwind at the end of the day by doing something peaceful you enjoy.
Treating a Migraine
If it’s your first time experiencing a migraine, you may be able to treat it at home with over the counter medications. However, if your symptoms persist for more than 72 hours or you’re experiencing an increased frequency of migraines than usual, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and create a treatment plan that is right for your individual needs.
Migraines can be extremely debilitating and stop you from enjoying your normal, daily routines. At PACT, our doctors and specialists are dedicated to delivering high-quality patient-centered care. If you or a loved are searching for a primary care provider, click here to search PACT’s list of Connecticut based, board-certified doctors near you.