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All About Migraines by Sally Wilson

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Having recently been diagnosed with chronic migraines, I now understand the intensity of side effects that are associated with a migraine headache. Migraines are life-altering headaches that oftentimes leave a person incapable of carrying out everyday functions and activities. Migraine attacks can happen once a month, or up to a few times a week. They affect every individual differently in terms of severity, how long they last, when they happen, and the symptoms that one experiences. Diagnosing migraines can be difficult because such severity of headaches can raise major concerns for other health problems and diseases that should not be ignored.

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but there are several factors that contribute to migraines such as heredity, environmental factors, and stress. Individuals with parents suffering from migraines are 50 percent more likely to suffer from migraines than those with who parents do not suffer from migraines. And individuals that have both parents who suffer from migraines are 70 percent more likely to struggle with migraines. As stated above, there is not one known cause but there are several key things that happen to an individual when they suffer from a migraine attack. During a migraine, a pain-sensing substance called nociceptor responds to changes in the body, and then releases a substance called neuropeptide, which then attacks other pain-sensing cells. When pain-sensing cells are attacked, they become more sensitive to pain and begin to affect the muscle that surrounds the brain and its blood vessels. Blood vessels surrounding the brain then become constricted. The constriction causes inflammation which results in even worse pain than before. The pain is unlike any pain one experiences from a normal headache.

Symptoms of migraines include nausea, vomiting, pulsing pain above one or both eyes, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sounds, and muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, and back of the head. A lot of people describe the pain like there is a rubber band around their head that keeps getting tighter and tighter with no relief. A lot of people have an “aura” before a migraine comes on. Aura is a signal that a person may have when a migraine attack is in the near future. These signs can include seeing spots, a feeling of depression, neck stiffness, and speech problems. Migraines can last from as little as an hour to a few days.

Migraines often have “triggers.” Triggers refer to something that causes or contributes to a migraine like food, weather changes and environmental factors like loud noise and bright lights. Foods like chocolate and dairy products have often been reported. As stated above, stress can be a trigger as well. Too much stress can lead to tension and inflammation of the muscles resulting in a tension migraine. Hormones are also another trigger which is why women are more likely to have migraines than men. Women who are on hormone replacement therapy often have triggers. Some women will only have migraines when they get their period.

It is important for individuals who believe they are suffering from migraines to see the appropriate doctor like a neurologist or a headache specialist. A primary care physician can certainly prescribe medicine for migraines but it is very important to rule out other problems such as aneurysms and other abnormalities of the brain. A neurologist may run tests like an MRA of the circle of Willis of a person’s brain to rule out aneurysms. An MRI or CAT scan may also be ordered to check for abnormal growths. A neurologist will ask questions about the frequency of the headaches, symptoms, how long the headaches last if you believe there are any triggers, and family history. A doctor will be able to determine what type of migraine you are suffering from and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Keeping a journal can help a person keep track of the frequency of the headaches, the time and day of the month the headaches happen, and the type of symptoms that occur. It would also be a good idea to write down what foods and drinks were consumed in the given day. Keeping a journal can be very helpful when going to see a doctor and can help in the diagnosis and treatment. It can help a doctor especially determine what type of migraine a person may be suffering from and if there are any triggers. Maintaining a good diet and regular exercise is very important when trying to treat migraines.  Migraines are life-altering headaches. They are painful and excruciating, and anyone having such headaches should seek treatment immediately.




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Mayo Clinic – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120


Discovery Fit and Health – http://health.howstuffworks.com/diseases-conditions/headache/migraine1.htm



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