The National Headache Foundation (http://www.headaches.org/) estimates that more than half of those who suffer from migraines have not been diagnosed. What is migraine and how is it different from a tension headache?
Migraines are intense or severe and often have other symptoms in addition to head pain. Migraines can be accompanied by warning signs (“triggers”) that an attack is about to begin. Tension headaches are more common and do not have a warning phase. Tension headaches also don’t typically cause the more severe migraine symptoms.
Migraine symptoms can include nausea, pain behind one eye or ear, pain in the temples, seeing spots or flashing lights, sensitivity to light and/or sound, temporary vision loss and vomiting. The sensations typically occur anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes before an attack.
The Five Phases of Migraines: While migraines can vary, most sufferers experience these five phases:
- Prodrome: The early “warning signs”
- Aura can affect vision (some do not experience this). A “halo” or bright light appears and gives everything a strange glow. Blind spots, geometric patterns, flashing, colorful lights, or loss of vision in one eye have also been reported.
- Headache: Usually occurs on one side of the head (pain described as stabbing and throbbing). Visual disturbances can continue, including extreme sensitivity to light. Many feel nauseous and vomit. Migraine can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours.
- Headache termination: Can sometimes be treated successfully with medication and lifestyle measures. Migraines usually go away by itself at some point, most often if the person goes to sleep. Even after it is gone, there still can be some lingering effects.
- Postdrome: Migraine sufferers have reported symptoms after the migraine ends, including a loss of appetite, problems with concentration, and extreme tiredness.
As bad as migraines are, there is hope. The more people diagnosed and report their symptoms, the more we learn about them and the causes. Knowing the signs/symptoms leading up to your migraines are the first steps towards getting effective pain relief. The best option is trying to prevent migraines from happening in the first place. The15 most common migraine triggers are:
- Food – aged cheese, salty and processed foods, and chocolate.
- Food additives – artificial coloring, flavoring and preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG).
- Artificial sweeteners like aspartame have been linked to migraines.
- Hunger – not eating regularly or too fast.
- Alcohol – alcohol such as wine is a known trigger.
- Caffeine – coffee, tea and so-called energy drinks like Red Bull have been linked to migraines.
- Stress – stress can lead to tension headaches and those prone to migraines are more at risk.
- Bright lights – bright lights (clubs and in video games) and too much sun (not wearing sunglasses).
- Loud music / noises – loud music at clubs, high sound levels at the movies, drilling and jackhammers.
- Strong smells – perfume, cologne and aftershave, paint, paint thinner and other solvents, and cigarette or cigar smoke.
- A lack of restful sleep – tossing and turning with insomnia, trouble staying asleep throughout the night, even too much sleep or jet lag.
- Physical factors – High levels of exertion like playing sports and after sexual activity.
- Changes in the environment – a change in the weather or barometric pressure can trigger a migraine.
- Medications – some medications such as oral contraceptives and heart-related drugs (like nitroglycerin) are known as triggers.
- Hormonal changes in women – changes in the hormone levels can affect frequency and severity (some report less and some more). Some known triggers are: before / during a woman’s period, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause.
How Can You Reduce Your Migraine Triggers? Find out what your triggers are. Keep a headache diary notating what you were doing, (eating, taking medications, etc.) before an episode. Many triggers are food and drink related. Cook with fresh ingredients. Avoid diet foods and convenience foods. Don’t get so hungry that you feel stressed and make bad food choices. Steer clear of wine and caffeine. Make lifestyle changes to reduce stress, like light exercise, meditation, or doing something you enjoy to help you relax. Avoid strong-smelling products; air fresheners, scented candles, using potpourri and essential oils especially those loaded with chemicals. Use unscented toiletries if possible. Experts stress that people who suffer headaches should see a doctor for a prevention and treatment plan.