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Migraines-What you should know about the causes, symptoms and treatment

When headaches become recurrent, many persons often  wonder if this could be migraine. How do I tell if I have migraine? They ask.  Since migraines are common causes of painful and disabling headaches,  it is helpful to know more about this health condition.  Have you ever wondered if your headaches are due to migraines? What signs and symptoms should you look for? What are the common triggers? Can it be treated? Consider answers to these frequently asked questions about migraines.

How can You tell if you have migraines?

According to experts, the common features of migraines occur before, during and after each attack of migraine. The aura lasts a few minutes to an hour, the attack may be up to 3 to 4 hours. If untreated, this may last up to 3 days.  A  person may experience unpleasant effects up to 24 hours after treatment.

People who have migraines experience some warning signs signifying that they are about to have an attack. These signs are called aura. Only one in three persons with migraine experiences an aura.

The aura of migraine includes:

  • Eye symptoms- flashes
  • Dizziness
  • Abnormal sensations such as numbness or tingling sensations
  • Speech difficulty

What are the common features of migraines?

Intense headaches usually in one side of the head-This is one of the main symptoms.  The headaches may also affect both sides of the head. Although, headaches typically occur in migraine, this may not be so all the time. Other features of migraines include:

  • Nausea
  •  Vomiting
  •  Increased sensitivity to light and sound – which explains the preference of people with a migraine quiet, dark places
  • Difficulty in concentration,
  • Feeling very hot or very cold
  •  Stomachache

How common is migraine?

A headache is a general symptom you may have   experienced at one time or other in your life, though it varies in nature and severity.  According to the  World Health Organization (WHO) a review of global data found migraine to be one of the most common  health disorders. Half to three quarters of adults aged 18–65 years in the world have had headache in the last year and, among those individuals, 30% or more have reported migraine.  It is the most frequent cause of headache consultations in several countries.  Over 20%   of any population worldwide report symptoms of migraine. In majority of individuals, these symptoms often begin in childhood or adolescence.

What causes migraines?

Although the cause of migraines is poorly understood, it is believed that an individual stands a chance of having a migraine if a family member has it. Are there agents or conditions that precipitate migraine? The answer is yes.

What are the common triggers? According to Mayo Clinic, these are:

  • Hormonal changes in women-This is one reason migraine is commoner in women. The headaches or attacks may occur immediately before or during their periods
  • Foods – Certain foods trigger migraines. It is important to identify such foods to reduce frequency of attacks. Examples of common foods that trigger attacks are  aged cheeses, salty and processed foods
  • Skipping meal/fasting
  • Stress. Stress at work or home
  • Drinks- Alcohol especially wine, coffee and highly caffeinated beverage drinks also called energy drinks.
  • Physical factors- Intense physical exertion, including sexual activities.
  • Medications – Oral contraceptives.
  • Changes in sleep-wake pattern – Missing sleep or getting too much sleep

How is migraine diagnosed?

Migraine is a diagnosis of exclusion. In other words, other likely causes of headache must have been ruled out. The diagnosis is majorly from the description of the headache; nature, severity, frequency, duration and associated symptoms.

Is there any cure?

Currently there is no cure for migraine. Treatment is geared towards preventing an attack and also seeking relief from the symptoms if it occurs.

What are the preventive methods?

  • Adequate sleep
  • Avoidance of foods and medications that can trigger migraine
  • Regular exercise
  • Stress management

Are there medications?

Over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol are very helpful in managing mild to moderate cases. Also, antiemetic and specific anti-migraine medications  have been shown to reduce symptoms during an attack. However, some drugs are also helpful in preventing an attack.

Have you ever experienced  headache that is recurrent, excruciating, throbbing, confined to one side, accompanied by nausea, vomiting, eye pain and hinders daily activities? If this is the case, you are likely to be dealing with a migraine.  If so, consider seeing your doctor for further assessment and treatment.


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