Myth: Migraines are just headaches. As anyone who has ever had a migraine will know, a migraine is not just a normal headache that can be quickly eased by taking a headache tablet or two. In this article we look at what migraine headaches actually are and migraine treatment to try and ease your migraine when you are experiencing one.
What is a Migraine?
According to a Professor of Neurology at King’s College, London, “A migraine is an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger.” A migraine is not merely a simple headache and can have a wide variety of symptoms, although many people do experience a severely painful headache as their primary symptom. Other symptoms include:
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Feeling ill and vomiting
- Seeing an ‘Aura’ (not always present)
- Double vision
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty speaking
- Stiffness in your neck and shoulders
A migraine can be triggered by a variety of events including emotional triggers like depression, stress or anxiety. Hormonal changes can also cause migraines as can tiredness and lack of sleep and physical overexertion. Low blood sugar is another physical trigger that can cause a migraine. Stimulants like alcohol and caffeine can also trigger migraines and certain foods are also triggers including chocolate, cheese and citrus fruits. Triggers in the environment can include strong smells, stuffy rooms, bright lights, loud noises and second-hand cigarette smoke. Certain medication like hormone replacement therapy and sleeping pills are also possible triggers. Travellers need to be aware that jet lag is also a possible trigger!
Treating a migraine
Unfortunately for migraine sufferers, there is no single cure for migraines and treatment is normally aimed at preventing a full-on migraine from descending upon you. As many of the triggers are related to lifestyle, it is strongly suggested that you:
- Reduce your stress
- Eat a healthy diet and avoid food triggers
- Get enough sleep
- Drink lots of water
- Enjoy regular exercise
If changing your lifestyle does not alleviate your symptoms, speak to your doctor about taking medicine to help prevent the migraine and alleviate the symptoms when a migraine does occur.
Migraine versus a headache
Headaches can vary in their intensity, so for many people it can be difficult to decide if they are having migraines or not. One of the ways to try and decide if you are experiencing a migraine is by keeping a diary of your symptoms and establishing whether certain things are triggering the migraine or not.
How to handle a migraine
Most migraine attacks usually last from 4 to 72 hours. If despite your best efforts, a full-blown migraine occurs, many people find it helps to remove themselves from all stimulation by going and laying in a darkened room. You can also try temperature therapy by applying hot or cold compresses to your head or neck. Headache medication can also possibly help with the headache pain you are experiencing – but always take your doctor’s guidance on this.
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