The symptoms of a migraine can vary from person to person but there are some common ones to look out for if you think you may be affected. The most common of these is an intense headache that is usually felt at the front or one side of the head. In most cases, the more you move around, the more intense the migraine symptoms are felt. In more severe cases, your head and neck may be affected by this intense headache.
Other symptoms that may indicate that you are experiencing a migraine include nausea, feeling very tired and increased sensitivity of your senses particularly your eyes and ears. More extreme reactions might include vomiting, sweating, abdominal pain and diarrhea. However, these reactions are not common amongst migraine sufferers so you are unlikely to encounter these reactions.
If these is one universal indication of a migraine, it is the painful intense headache that most people would recognize. Once you have experienced a migraine headache, you will easily be able to recognize that this is more than just a conventional one. Symptoms of migraine vary between individuals and therefore, it is difficult to specify exactly what you will experience yourself should you be affected.
Signs of migraine will usually last for not more than about four hours. However, you may still feel tired and / or other side effects for several days after the episode has passed. If you are at all concerned or your symptoms are particularly prolonged, then you should at least, seek medical advice. This is unless it is not unusual for you as an individual to experience such unusual symptoms.
Types of migraine
Migraines are very common affecting around 20% of women and around 6% of men. Just to confuse matters, there are different types of migraine with different signs of migraine associated with each of them. In addition, there is often no reasoning behind the frequency of attacks. You can experience several in one week or go for years without experiencing one.
There are three major types of migraine:
Migraine with aura – Some people may experience symptoms before the main migraine occurs. This can include flashing lights or other visual anomalies; a tingling sensation that may or may not affect your arms, face, lips and tongue; dizziness. On very rare occasions, you can lose consciousness but this is incredibly rare. These pre-attack symptoms are known collectively as aura.
Migraine without aura – It is, of course, possible to experience a migraine without any warning and this is known as migraine without aura for obvious reasons. These are slightly less common as most people will ‘know’ that a migraine is approaching even if they cannot rationalize the reason why they know. It is just down to personal experience.
Migraine aura without headache – Is where you get pre-attack symptoms but this does not actually develop into a full-blown episode of a migraine with headache and other more extreme symptoms. However, do not be mistaken that you have had a lucky escape as the aura symptoms can be unpleasant in themselves.
What causes Migraines?
In this day and age, it is surprising that for something as common as a migraine, we do not actually know for sure what causes them. Some people speculate that they occur due to a chemical change or imbalance in the brain. There is some evidence that there is a hereditary link for migraine sufferers but it is certainly not a foregone conclusion that the condition will be passed down genetically through families.
What we do know is that many people identify triggers that may cause an attack. This could be related to certain allergens in foods or drinks or for example, through drinking alcohol. Stress, tiredness and general illness or being unwell can also trigger a migraine attack in some people.
A number of other factors that may contribute to an attack would be hormonal changes, lack of sleep or changes in sleep patterns, excessive exercise and of course, certain medications. If you know that you do suffer from migraines, it is important to let your doctor know before you begin any course of prescribed medication. This will enable your doctor to prescribe, where possible, the medications that are most appropriate for you.
Treatment for Migraines
One of the first and most obvious treatments for migraines is to avoid or minimise your exposure to known triggers. Of course, if there are no identifiable triggers or you have not been able to identify one so far, then this is not very helpful. However, it would make sense where possible to avoid any foods or drinks (including alcohol) if this is likely to trigger an attack.
Even if you are unable to identify a trigger for your migraines, by getting plenty of rest, ensuring proper nutrition and hydration, as well as keeping yourself generally healthy, you can minimise the risk of suffering constant migraines or occasional ones.
If you do suffer from migraines on a regular basis, it is worthwhile keeping a diary of your food and drink intake, as well as your sleep patterns and anything else you can think of that might be the cause. This way, you can at least try and eliminate some factors.
Of course, you may never find a trigger for your migraine episodes and this is nothing to worry about and not unusual. You might also discover that it is caused by something that is beyond your control such as age, hormonal changes or migraines being caused by hereditary factors.
It is important that if you suffer from recurring migraines, you get professional advice from your doctor or consultant. Some people will attempt to self-medicate over long periods of time particularly in relation to pain relief. Whilst in most cases this does not cause an issue, there are certain medications that should not be taken long term.
This can be due to their addictive natures such as co-codamol (paracetamol and codeine) or due to the negative effect they can have upon your overall health. In some cases, the pain relief you are taking might actually have the opposite effect and make your migraine symptoms worse or at least, not improve them.
For example, if you take ibuprofen (as many sufferers of migraines and epilepsy do) longer term, you may suffer from stomach aches and ulcers. Of course, if your doctor or medical professional advises you that it’s okay to continue taking them, then fine.
Whilst there is no known cure for migraines, the symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter medications if the symptoms are not too severe or the attacks do not occur regularly. Many migraine sufferers are able to manage their symptoms and know from experience how to best deal with the symptoms, recover from episodes and in some cases, avoid them (or minimize the occurrences) by avoiding the triggers.
Alternatively, your doctor may prescribe triptans to treat your migraines. These are medications that are thought to control the changes in your brain that cause a migraine attack to occur. They are used when over-the-counter medications are ineffective and come in a variety of forms including tablet and nasal spray. Triptans are used to manage the symptoms of migraines (particularly the headache aspect) and are therefore not a preventative measure. Triptans are not suitable for everyone and can only be prescribed by a doctor for this reason.
In addition, there are medications that can be prescribed separately if in conjunction with others to manage other symptoms such as to reduce the chances of vomiting. Often, a range of treatments are suggested by a doctor or it may be that you are required to work through different non-medication solutions first to eliminate as many possible causes.
All of the above treatments relate to the management of symptoms. However, there are several types of prescribed medications that are thought to help prevent migraine attacks. For example, drugs that are usually used to treat high blood pressure are also thought to reduce the risk of migraine attacks.
Some anti-depressants are also thought to help reduce attacks due to the fact that migraines can be caused by hormonal changes and these drugs help to regulate certain hormonal activity. Some anti-inflammatory drugs are also thought to help prevent migraine attacks as it is considered that there may be a connection between inflammation of blood vessels in the brain and episodes occurring.
When to seek immediate medical attention
When you suffer from migraine attacks, it can be an unpleasant and draining experience. If you do experience repeated episodes, even if you believe you can treat them yourself, it is important to get some independent medical advice from your doctor. The reasons for this have already been discussed but apart from anything else, diagnosis and treatment can help you to minimize the impact that migraines have on your quality of life.
However, there are times when you must get checked out either by your own doctor or by visiting an emergency or out of hour’s service. These include if you develop a fever, as well as a headache; if your headache comes on very sudden (like instantly); if you experience any numbness or trouble speaking or if you have a headache after a head injury or possible concussion.
If you are unsure, the best advice is to get checked out. In most cases, there is not a problem but it is always advisable to get advice when it comes to your health particularly if symptoms are new or different to your previous experiences.
By taking into account the advice in this article, you can better manage the signs and symptoms, as well as minimize the impact that migraines have on your overall health, well-being and quality of life.