Migraine headaches are one of the most severe form of headache that affects a large portion of the population today. Migraine headaches affect up to as many as 18% of women and 7% of men. Migraines can range from lasting less than one hour to up to 3 days. Migraines usually start in children, teens and young adults. They are hereditary so people who have a family history of migraines are much more likely to develop migraines in their lifetime. Young women tend to get migraines when they reach puberty.
Migraines are different from tension and sinus headaches in that they usually only cause pain in one side of the head. Children are the exception to the rule here, however as a lot of children with migraines report having pain in both sides of their head. Migraines are accompanies by auras or senses that they are coming on. These can include visual disturbances or blurring, strange smells, seeing lines or other distortion in the visual field, having blind spots or seeing flashes of light, and feeling tingling or a pins and needles sensation in one arm or leg.
Some of the symptoms of a classic migraine include having a severe sensitivity to light and sound, pain in one side of the head that is moderate to severe in nature, and nausea and vomiting, The amount of migraine headaches that occur vary from one individual to another. Some people report that they have one to two headaches per month, others can have several per week.
A large number of women or girls who have reached puberty tend to have migraine headaches that coincide with their menstrual cycle. Researchers have linked migraine headaches to the amount of estrogen that is in the woman’s body. More migraines are reported right before menstrual periods or during the period. This correlates to a severe drop off in estrogen in the woman’s body. Other changes in estrogen levels have been linked to migraine headaches as well. Therefore taking oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy may make women who suffer migraines have more headaches or make their migraines worse.
There are certain environmental triggers that can either bring on migraines or make a person’s migraine severity worse. These include taking in some things in the daily diet. Researchers have found that drinking alcohol such as beer and wine may make migraines worse. They have also found that certain foods such as aged cheese, chocolate, certain canned or processed foods, some foods that have been pickled or fermented. They have also linked monosodium glutamate to migraine headaches. This is an ingredient that can be found in a lot of Asian foods.
Other environmental or lifestyle factors that can affect migraines include skipping meals or not eating for long periods of time, irregular sleep patterns such as not getting enough sleep can make migraines worse as well. Increased stress levels can bring on migraine headaches too. Even weather changes such as sudden drops in the barometric pressure can bring on a migraine headache.
The good news for people with migraines is that there are excellent new treatments available that can greatly decrease or even avert migraines now. There are preventative medications that can be taken in order to keep people from having migraine headaches. These medications include some antidepressants, certain beta blockers and some anti-seizure medications. People who have frequent migraine headaches that are debilitating have found that the medications have made great improvements in their lives. Other medications can be administered when migraines start in order to stave off or shorten the duration of a migraine headache. These include NSAID’s, Triptans such as Imitrex, and ergotamine are used routinely for those who have migraine headaches to give them relief.
Anyone who feels that they might have migraine headaches needs to be evaluated by a physician. This would include a consultation and working out an individual treatment plan. No two migraine sufferers are alike so no one medication works for everyone. It is a good idea if someone does feel they have migraines to keep a headache diary for their physician so they can give them detailed information about their headaches. This will help the physician diagnose and treat their headaches much faster and easier.
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