Aside from being incredibly uncomfortable, migraines can disrupt your work, your activities and your routines. When a migraine hits, many patients head straight for a dark, quiet room. Treatments can range from medication to yoga to injections. What can help most is understanding your migraines and how they affect you.
Is it a migraine or a headache?
Migraine symptoms can vary between people, but there are a few symptoms that distinguish them from regular headaches.
Migraines often involve throbbing or pulsating pain that can be moderate to intense. Sometimes, but not always, they can cause nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound and scents, confusion, difficulty articulating sentences, or even visual disruptions called “aura,” such as zigzagging lines, blind spots or difficulty focussing.
Migraines can last anywhere from 4 – 72 hours. About 15%1 of the population suffer from migraines but they tend to be more prevalent in women.
What causes migraines?
The current understanding is that they result from an interaction between the brain and the cranial blood vessels. Certain waves of activity in the brain trigger the release of serotonin which sends a signal to compress the blood vessels, which can lead to contractions and pain.
A sudden change in serotonin or oestrogen levels can trigger a migraine, which explains why some women experience migraines at certain points in their menstrual cycles. Triggers do vary person to person, and other common triggers may include stress, changes in sleep patterns, weather changes, flickering lights or certain foods.
How do you cure migraines?
Migraine symptoms can sometimes be relieved by pain relievers or nausea medications. These may be over-the-counter or by prescription. You should speak to your doctor or pharmacist to determine if any of these are appropriate for you.
Other methods of relief will vary person to person. Some people feel better after vomiting, but others find relief in lying down in a dark room. Some find exercise relieves their migraines, but others find that it aggravates them.
Common home remedies might include ice packs on the forehead or neck and aromathgerapy with lavender or peppermint.
How do you prevent migraines?
If you keep a diary of your migraines, it can help you determine possible triggers and help your doctor to diagnose you. You can record the dates, times and symptoms of your migraines, as well as outside factors such as weather, physical activity, diet, and for women, menstrual cycles. Once you’ve identified some triggers, it can help you to minimise the occurrence of migraines.
If your migraines tend to be triggered by stress or poor posture, yoga, meditation or pilates can help. Adjustments to diet may also help you to prevent migraines.
A diary can also help you track the frequency of your migraines in case you want to consider medical preventative measures.
Anti-wrinkle injections can also be used to prevent migraines. It was discovered in the mid-1990s that patients receiving these injections for other conditions experienced fewer migraines. Patients who had chronic migraines experienced reduced pain, improved quality of life and increased ability to function.
The main ingredient in anti-wrinkle injections temporarily blocks the signal between the nerve and the muscle, causing the muscle to relax. When injected into the muscles associated with migraines, this ingredient can safely block the signals that cause the muscle fibres to contract, thus preventing the muscles from compressing the nerve, and preventing the occurrence of migraines.
Oral medications may also be prescribed to prevent migraines, including anti-seizure medications, antidepressants or cardiovascular medications. Before you consider these medications, you should have a discussion with your doctor.
Whether you are a candidate for preventative medications will often depend on how often your migraines occur, and how long they last.