Migraine headaches are one of the most severe kinds of headaches that people experience. Migraine is a type of primary headache – a headache that is not caused by another health condition.
Migraine headaches can be very debilitating. The pain can be so severe that it can negatively affect the sufferer’s work and daily activities.
What is a migraine?
When people talk about migraines, they usually refer to the headache. But migraine is actually a constellation of symptoms. It is a syndrome with many phases :
- The prodrome: This phase occurs a few days before the headache kicks in. People may experience depressive symptoms like low mood and low energy; or manic symptoms like increased energy, elated mood or hyperactivity. Gastro-intestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and constipation may also occur
- The aura phase: Not everyone with a migraine goes through this phase. When the aura phase occurs, the migraine is called ‘migraine with aura’. Studies have shown that only 25% of migraines occur with aura.
In this phase, people experience abnormal symptoms in their sense organs. Visual auras are the most common. Examples include seeing flashes of light or temporary blindness. Other symptoms like ringing in the ears, abnormal sense of smell or taste, and tingling sensation on the skin can also occur.
The aura phase may precede the headache by some hours, or the two may happen at the same time.
- Attack phase: This is the phase where the actual headache occurs.
- Post-drome phase: This is the post-attack phase where confusion or prodrome-like symptoms occur.
These phases occur differently from person to person. Some phases may be shorter, longer or completely absent in certain individuals. After the post-drome phase, some people may continue experiencing constant headaches that are not as severe as migraine headaches, while others may be headache-free until the next migraine episode is triggered.
Migraine triggers and risk factors
Migraines are generally more common in women; estrogen is believed to play a role in the disease. The syndrome may also run in families.
The syndrome can be triggered by the following factors:
- Weather changes
- Alcohol use
- Exposure to bright lights
- Poor sleep or a change in sleeping pattern.
What does a migraine feel like?
Symptoms of a migraine headache include:
- Throbbing/banging/pulsating headache;
- Usually on one side of the head, but may shift from side to side or affect both sides of the head;
- Moderate to severe type of headache which is worsened by movement;
- Lasting anywhere from 4 to 72 hours.
- Prodromal symptoms may be present, and the sufferer may become sensitive to light and sound.
Treatment of migraine
Currently, there is no cure for migraines, but they can be adequately managed using different types of pain-relief medications. A class of drugs known as triptans (sumatriptan) are often used to control migraine symptoms.
Trigger control is also important in the treatment of migraines. It is important to pay attention to one’s triggers and avoid them as much as possible.
New drugs are underway to improve the treatment of migraines, and possibly provide a cure in the nearest future.