Have you ever had throbbing, recurring headaches that build up slowly as they spread throughout your head and last for several hours or maybe an entire day?
You may be suffering from migraine headaches, the second most common type of headache that accounts for more than 23 million sufferers in the United States. It is also the most undiagnosed and self-medicated of all primary headache disorders, most often by those who decide they are having a sinus headache.
Migraines, unlike cluster headaches, are more common in women than in men. While migraines can develop at any age, 80% of all sufferers have their first attack by age 30, and it rarely begins after age 50. Migraines have a throbbing quality, are considered moderate to severe in intensity, and often occur with other symptoms.
Most people will experience nausea during the attack, as well as sound and/or light sensitivity. Lightheadedness and/or vomiting may also occur. Before or during the headaches, an aura – phenomenon perceived only by the sufferer – will be present in about 36% of cases.
This aura can be visual (with blind spots or geometric patterns), sensory (such as numbness or tingling), or motor (heavy limbs or speech disturbances) and usually lasts less than an hour. Visual auras are the most common, but any combination is possible.
Auras can occur without the headache and are called migraine equivalents, a condition more common in those over 40 who have had a history of recurring headaches.
Migraine sufferers often know that “a headache is coming on”. This is called a prodrome – warning symptoms – and can happen hours to days before the attack. The symptoms are somewhat vague, but experience tells the migraine sufferer what is going to happen.
This is the same as the tired and achy feeling we all have before coming down with the flu. The prodrome can include fatigue, yawning, change in appetite, excitement, frequent urination, difficulty with memory, weakness, cold hands, irritability, and loss of concentration. Recognizing the prodrome will allow you to use medication to try to prevent the attack from occurring. Similarly, after the headache, most migraine sufferers experience a postdrome that is likened to a “migraine hangover”.
This is usually characterized by anxiety over the headache coming back, tiredness, dizziness, and minor confusion.
The cause of migraines is, like all other headaches, unknown. However, migraines are known to be inherited disorders of the nervous system. More than 90% of those with migraines have at least one primary relative with similar headaches. Treatment is twofold; stopping an attack and preventing them from occurring.
The most common method of stopping a migraine is with a class of drugs called triptans. Nearly 80% of migraine sufferers report relief of migraine symptoms within two hours of dosing and quickly return to normal. Triptans are well tolerated and their side effects are generally mild and short-lived. Those who use triptans like being able to treat their headaches and feeling in control of their disorder.
Preventive medications, such as Topamax (commonly used for epilepsy), are used for those who suffer more frequent attacks. These types of medications have more serious side effects and their results are medium, cutting the frequency of migraine attacks by about one half.
Depression can also play a significant part in mental issues. Consider checking seretonin levels to see if there is an imbalance.
Why they work is unknown.
Be careful of migraine prevention claims and products sold over the internet or on television.
The common nature of the disorder and the fact that no known cause or cure exists lead some to try to profit from your pain. See your doctor and be patient while trying different medications. What may work for one will not work for all. Most migraine suffers have tried at least 4 different medications before finding one that works for them.
There are many natural cures that may be good for headaches. Consider researching herbs and vitamins for natural alternatives to prescription medicines.