Introduction to Migraine
A migraine is an intense, potentially debilitating headache.
What is a Migraine?
A migraine is an intense, potentially debilitating headache. It can be classified by whether it presents “with aura” or preceded by some form of warning, “without aura” or in the absence of such warning signals or even as a silent migraine where you experience aura without the other symptoms associated with migraines such as the headache. Migraines are extremely common in the population and 15% will experience one at some point in their lives.
What are the causes for a Migraine?
It is unknown what causes a migraine, though many factors have been suggested that could contribute to their incidence: It is thought that your genetic makeup plays an influential role in whether you will experience migraines over the course of your life, but beyond this initial predisposition a trigger of some form is required to bring on the headache.
There is a huge range of potential triggers and which will be particular to each individual. They can be broadly divided into psychological triggers such as stress, anxiety and depression, physical triggers like exhaustion or exertion, dietary triggers which may include infrequent meals, alcohol, caffeine or dehydration and environmental triggers like smoke, extreme temperatures or humidities and strong sensory inputs such as flashing lights or intense smells. Many medications have also been implicated with migraines including the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy. The latter is particularly linked as women often stop experiencing migraines after menopause and the associated changes in hormonal activities.
What are the symptoms of a Migraine?
Severe headache is the most prominent symptom of a migraine. This is most commonly felt at the front or sides of the head alongside a throbbing, pulsing sensation and further symptoms can include nausea and abnormal sensitivities to bright lights, strong smells and loud noises. These symptoms can last from hours to days at a time depending on the individual.
If the condition is classified as “migraine with aura” then before the onset of a headache you may experience visual abnormalities such as lights, dots or patterns, or perhaps vertigo, light-headedness and a numbness that may or may not travel across the body. A third of people experience an aura alongside the migraine headache, usually presenting itself visually.
If the migraine presents alongside other symptoms such as impaired speech and paralysis along one side of the body it may itself be symptomatic of a stroke. Moreover, if this intense headache comes with any of the following: Fever, neck stiffness, confusion, fear of bright lights and a rash that doesn’t blanche when a tumbler is pressed against it, the headache can be a symptom of meningitis. Both such cases are considered emergencies and require immediate medical intervention.
How is a Migraine treated?
Migraines are normally treated with painkillers, though if they prove ineffective then triptans can be used. This class of drugs acts by contracting the muscle surrounding arteries in the skull which is thought to play a role in the incidence of migraines. Triptans are available in a variety of formulations such as nasal sprays, injections and oral tablets. Nausea can be treated with anti-emetics. It is often recommended to take these medications preventatively at the first signs that you may suffer a migraine headache in order that they take effect before the onset of intense pain.