What is a migraine?
A migraine in a severe headache, often experienced on one side of the head and accompanied by a number of associated symptoms.
There are two common types of migraine:
Classic migraine – this headache is preceded by symptoms of “aura“, which may include difficulty focusing, flashes of light, blind spots, numbness, weakness or seeing things as though through a broken mirror. This phase can last from 15 minutes to an hour, according to the NHS.
Common migraine – the headache strikes without aura symptoms.
What causes it and who is at risk?
Around 28 million people in the United States suffer from migraines, according to NINDS – that’s approximately 1 in 9 individuals, About Data estimates.
It is most common in adults between 20 and 50, but can also be experienced in early childhood and progress into adulthood. It is rare, however, for an individual to get their first migraine after the age of 40.
The condition is more common in men than women by a considerable margin (Net Doctor states that 20% of women suffer from migraines as opposed to 6% of men), thus it has been linked to frequent hormonal change. Women are more likely to get an attack around the time of their menstrual period, when oestrogen levels are lower than usual.
Another potential cause is the change of brain chemicals, especially serotonin. This affects other transmitters in the brain and causes blood vessels to contract and dilate unexpectedly – thus causing a headache. It is, however, still unclear what causes serotonin levels to drop.
The NHS outlines several other triggers that may lead to a migraine:
- Emotional – such as stress, shock, anxiety or depression
- Physical – tiredness, bad posture, shift work, travelling long hours
- Dietary – lack of food (or through eating disorders such as anorexia), dehydration, alcohol, caffeine, certain foods
- Environmental – bright lights, flickering screens, stuffy atmosphere, strong smells, change in climate
- Medicinal – some sleeping tablets, the contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy
What are the symptoms?
When a migraine strikes, it is difficult to mistake it for anything else. Aside from the aforementioned aura symptoms, the sufferer may experience one or more of the following during a bout:
- Nausea, sometimes followed by vomiting
- A throbbing pain, which is made worse by physical exertion
- Sensitivity to light and sound
Bupa warns that help from a medical professional should be sought if any of the following symptoms occur:
- Attacks becoming more and more frequent or treatment not working
- If your first migraine occurs over the age of 50
- A fever accompanying the headache
- Aura symptoms between attacks
A migraine usually lasts between 4 and 72 hours. The sufferer may feel tired and have a low level of concentration for several days after the bout.
How is it treated?
A migraine can be treated at home by resting or trying to sleep in a dark, quiet room. A hot or cold compress applied on the head can also help to ease the pain.
There are a number of medicines available from your local store, such as Aspirin or Nurofen, which can be effective in lessening the pain. These should be taken when you can feel an attack coming on.
Triptans are a type medication, which stop the effects of serotonin and are used for migraines specifically. There are also drugs available designed to prevent migraines and can be prescribed by your doctor.
More natural remedies such as herbal remedies and acupuncture can also help relieve symptoms.
Images: Wikimedia CommonsTags: causes symptoms