A migraine headache is recognizable by intense pulsing or throbbing in an area of the head often accompanied by sensitivity to sound or light, nausea, and vomiting. Sufferers can be in pain for hours or even days and may be forced to lie down in a dark, quiet location. Understanding what causes these painful headaches, how to prevent them, and how to treat a migraine before it worsens can improve the lifestyle.
Causes and Symptoms of Migraine Headaches
Researchers have not pinpointed definite causes of these headaches but genetic predisposition and factors related to the environment seem to play roles. Brain chemical imbalances and changes within the brainstem and how it interacts with the major pain pathway called the trigeminal nerve may also be causes. Female hormonal changes, certain foods or drinks, stress, sensory stimuli such as bright lights, medications, and weather changes can trigger a migraine.
The headache often progresses through several stages, each with different symptoms. One to two days before onset, the individual may experience irritability, depression, hyperactivity, a stiff neck, excessive yawning, constipation, or cravings for certain foods. Just before or during a headache, a disturbance called an aura may occur. Though this is usually visual, it may instead be a verbal, sensory, or motor disturbance.
This is followed by throbbing or pulsing pain on one or both sides of the head, blurred vision, lightheadedness, sensory sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting. Each headache typically lasts for between four and 72 hours. After experiencing a migraine, the individual usually feels drained of energy. If symptoms include a headache that is severe and abrupt or accompanied by double vision, numbness, difficulty speaking, or a stiff neck, immediate medical attention is recommended.
Prevention and Treatment of Migraine Headaches
Aerobic exercise on a regular basis is one way to reduce tension that may lead to this type of headache. If an odor or food is a known trigger, avoidance is a good preventative measure. A daily routine that includes consistent meal times and regular patterns of sleep may be helpful. Controlling stress is also recommended and can be done through meditation, yoga, or simply enjoying some quiet time.
Though medication is a common treatment, many people prefer to avoid it. Alternative treatments include spinal manipulation therapy provided by a chiropractor. Results of clinical trials include a substantial reduction of attacks and headache intensity. Some studies indicate that chiropractic treatment may be as effective as medications for migraine prevention.