All you need to know about migraine headaches

Bajaj Finserv Health Team, Neurologist
November 23, 2020

A migraine may be thought of as a severe headache affecting one side of the head but is, in fact, a neurological disease whose symptoms can be incapacitating and of a much greater intensity than those of a bad headache. As a disease, migraine is very common in India, with over 10 million cases annually. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is the 3rd most widely spread disease worldwide and, also, the 6th most disabling illness globally.

Suffering from a migraine headache is not easy, and, often, having a migraine causes one to become sensitive to light and feel nauseous. Hence, it is common for people with a migraine to seek dark rooms. Despite that the fact that migraines inflict much pain, the disease is not very well understood and moreover, many go by without seeking medical aid. As of now, there is no known migraine cure. But there are migraine treatment options that aim at reducing migraine symptoms. Moreover, it is possible to identify potential triggers for the condition and adopt some home remedies for immediate relief.

Learning about migraines can help you be more effective in your approach towards handling it and assist those suffering from it. To that end, here is a rundown on migraines.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a neurological disorder, as per recent research. It is a type of headache that recurs and though it often causes pain or throbbing on one side of the head, it is known to affect both sides as well. Many a time, it is hard to word a concise definition of a migraine, meaning that even doctors may differ in their responses. Nonetheless, the American Migraine Foundation notes that for a clinical definition of migraine, the following suffice:

  • At least 5 attacks of unprovoked headaches
  • The headaches last for 4 to 72 hours
  • The attack is severe enough to markedly hinder or prohibit routine daily activity
  • Alongside the headaches are the symptoms of nausea and sensitivity to light/ sound

The clinical definition of a migraine makes no mention of pulsating headaches or the symptom called migraine ‘aura’. Moreover, not every migraine is severe and incapacitating. So, to know whether you are suffering from migraine headaches it is apt to take a look at a list of the most common migraine symptoms.

Migraine symptoms

Common migraine symptoms include throbbing pain on one side of the head (though both sides are affected in about 33% of cases), nausea, and

Prodrome (up to 24-48 hours before the headache)
These are early signs of a migraine headache and include:

  • Mood changes
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Hyperactivity
  • Stiff neck
  • Fluid retention
  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Constipation
  • Uncontrolled yawning
  • Irritation

Aura
The migraine aura are sensory disturbances that may occur before or during a migraine, although not everyone experiences them. An aura can be viewed as a warning sign of a migraine. They last for 20 to 60 minutes. The symptoms of aura (sensory disturbances) include:

  • Seeing bright dots, sparks, flashes of light, zig-zag lines, etc.
  • Loss of vision for a short period of time
  • Muscle weakness
  • Uncontrolled jerks/ movements
  • Tingling sensation at the face, arms, legs, fingers, etc.
  • Numbness in the face, arms, legs, or one side of the body
  • Speech difficulties, such as slurring and the inability to speak the right words
  • Hearing sounds

Attack
This is the most intense of the migraine phases and may be accompanied by aura. The symptoms, which may last for hours to days and increase in intensity, include:

  • Throbbing or pulsating pain
  • Pain on one side of the head, though not always
  • Sensitivity to light/sound/ smell
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Faintness or dizziness

An important thing to remember here is that not every migraine causes a headache.
Postdrome (Post the migraine attack)
After a migraine attack, certain symptoms linger for up to 24 hours. These include:

  • Weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • Mild headache
  • Mood changes
  • Confusion
  • Pain on head movement

Migraine causes and triggers

To date, the exact cause of migraines is not known. Research points in the direction of genetics, environmental factors, and changes in brain chemicals like serotonin. That being said, there are several triggers of migraines that you can take note of:

Hormone changes in women: Change in oestrogen levels about the time of periods may be linked to migraines.

Emotional triggers: Shock, stress, anxiety, depression, excitement, etc.

Change in sleep pattern: Too little or too much sleep, jet lag, poor-quality sleep

Physical factors: Tiredness, exertion, odd work hours, bad posture

Dietary triggers: Alcohol, excess caffeine, missing meals, dehydration, tyramine-containing foods, processed foods, etc.

Sense triggers: Bright light, loud noise, smoking, weather changes, strong odour, etc.

Medication: Sleep tablets and oral contraceptives can contribute to migraines

Apart from noting these triggers, it is important to bear in mind that:

  • Migraines tend to run in families
  • Affect women more than men
  • Have been linked to other mental conditions like depression, sleep disorder, and bipolar disorder

Diagnosis and treatment of migraines

A general physician diagnoses migraine by:

  • Noting the symptoms
  • Checking your family history
  • Conducting a physical and neurological examination
  • Carrying out tests like MRI and CT scan

Then, according to the symptoms and triggers, a case of migraine may be classified according to the commonly-described migraine types such as:

  • Migraine with aura
  • Migraine without aura
  • Silent migraine (aura without headache)
  • Chronic migraine
  • Acute migraine
  • Vestibular migraine
  • Menstrual migraine

In terms of migraine treatment, it is important to understand that there is no migraine cure. However, your doctor may prescribe medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, and anti-emetics, to manage and reduce the symptoms.

Further, home remedies can work to reduce the intensity of symptoms. A few of them are:
  • Lying down in a quiet, dark room
  • Placing an ice pack/ cool cloth on the forehead or behind the neck
  • Drinking fluids
  • Massaging the temples or head

All in all, a migraine can be an extremely unpleasant condition to have and its symptoms can disrupt daily life and work. Nevertheless, treatments help in relieving the symptoms and can help you get back on your feet faster. Moreover, the migraine condition is said to improve over years. However, this may involve some active role on your part, such as lifestyle modifications to avoid the triggers of migraine headaches.Since the symptoms of a migraine are common to many other diseases and may even be mistaken for those of a stroke, it is not a good idea to take major healthcare decisions without proper counsel. Access to medical assistance is easier than ever today with the Bajaj Finserv Health app. It allows you to search for relevant doctors and specialists near you, book appointments at their clinics, sign up for video consultations, store and share medical records, and play an active role in managing your overall health.

So, get it today by downloading it from Google Play or the Apple App Store and get in touch with a doctor to draw out a good plan to prevent possible migraine attacks!