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What are Migraine Headaches by Nick Kaiser

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Migraines are a very severe type of headache that can last for hours or even days and are commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, smell, and noise.  They occur when blood vessels in the brain expand and constrict while releasing chemicals, such as serotonin, which makes the pulsation painful.  It is estimated that nearly 28 million Americans experience this type of headache regularly. Of those 28 million Americans, 4 out of 5 have a family history of migraines, proving that they are hereditary. They are much more common in women than in men and usually, men begin to outgrow them by junior high, whereas women begin to experience more frequent and more intense headaches as they get older due to hormone changes.

It has not been determined what causes the blood vessels in the brain to expand and constrict because it varies from person to person. However, studies have shown that it is a combination of genetics and environmental factors such as stress, skipping meals, changes in weather or sleep patterns, and specific chemicals or preservatives in food, especially foods with tyramine. Tyramine is a substance formed from the breakdown of protein as food ages.

Migraines usually begin slowly and build as time goes on, progressing through four phases: Prodromal, Aura, Attack, and Postdromal.

The Prodromal phase occurs hours or sometimes even the day before the actual headache pain begins. During this phase, it is common to experience neck stiffness, irritability, unusual thirst and frequent yawning. In some cases, people feel unusually energetic or excited.

The Aura phase affects 1 out of 5 people who get migraines. It can cause changed or blurred vision, tingling skin sensations, and difficulty expressing thoughts or understanding written or spoken words.

The Attack phase is when the headache takes over. Usually there is intense, throbbing pain above the eyes on one side of the head and the throbbing can become increasingly worse during physical activity. Simply leaning forward also very commonly causes this increase in throbbing pain. Lightheadedness, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, noise, and smell are other symptoms of this phase.

Finally the Postdromal phase sets in after the headache pain subsides. After a migraine, people feel extremely tired and sometimes confused. Head pain flare-ups from leaning forward or exerting one’s self are also common.

There are many theories about how to treat a migraine with and without medication. Ibuprofen and Tylenol can help relieve mild migraine pains but for more serious cases, triptans are used to relieve all migraine symptoms. Imitrex, Maxalt, and Axert are examples of triptans and they usually require a prescription. Treating a headache without medication is simply about distracting yourself. Concentrating on taking unusually deep breaths or scanning different parts of your body and making an effort to relax each muscle can take your mind off the pain.

Other suggestions include using a cold washcloth to cover the site of the pain or having someone massage your temples. If you can take your mind off the pain long enough to fall asleep, you have won the battle.  In my personal opinion of all remedies used to weather a migraine, sleep is by far the best.

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