When asked what is a migraine headache, those who have never experienced one may be tempted to think that it is just a particularly bad headache. However, a migraine can be completely debilitating and last for days. These headaches are unique in their symptoms, triggers and treatments. Thus, understanding whether or not one is dealing with a common tension headache or with a migraine is vital in understanding how to care for the symptoms.
Migraine symptoms are generally described as coming in four stages. For some people, these stages may come so close together that they are impossible to distinguish. Others may completely skip one or two phases.
- The first stage is known as the prodrome, and it includes certain symptoms that tell the individual that a migraine is coming soon. For example, the individual may start feeling stiff or may have food cravings. He or she may also experience a mood shift.
- The second stage is the aura. Most often, the aura is a visual disturbance, such as halos or flashing lights. It could also include a change in movement or speech.
- The main phase is the attack. Severe pain, which may be throbbing, occurs throughout the head. The individual may have worsened symptoms with loud noises or bright lights.
- After the attack, the post-drome phase leads to significant sleepiness and could also include weakness and some confusion.
It is often difficult to say what causes a migraine. However, genetics seem to play a part in many cases. In addition, migraines tend to occur more in teens and young adults rather than in older adults. Women are more apt than men to struggle with them because hormonal changes and hormone replacement therapy can be powerful migraine headache triggers.
Types of Migraine Headaches
As already described, migraines can occur in many ways, and each of these ways constitutes a type of migraine. For example, migraines may be described as being chronic if they occur more than half the days of each month or vestibular if they cause dizziness. However, the two most classic types of migraines are migraines with an aura and migraines without an aura.
A migraine headache diagnosis often relies greatly on one’s description of symptoms as well as on the past medical record and family history. The doctor will also perform a complete physical and neurological examination. Some other tests that may be necessary before diagnosis is complete include blood tests, an MRI or CT scan and a spinal tap and are often used to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
The best treatment for an individual will depend on the frequency and severity of the attacks. Many times, over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or triptans are used. Anti-nausea medications may be important for controlling this unwelcome symptom.
Additionally, all treatments should include preventative techniques for avoiding triggers as well as lifestyle changes, such as increasing gentle exercise and getting enough sleep. Many alternative treatments, including massage and acupuncture, are also gaining in popularity for chronic migraines.
When migraines become debilitating or when they are occurring more frequently than not, they must be treated professionally. A doctor can provide the right combination of prescription medications, lifestyle remedies and possibly even alternative remedies to create a full-bodied treatment plan that offers the best hope for relief. Plus, he or she can also provide ways to prevent migraines, reduce triggers and learn to cope with the symptoms.