Migraine – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is a migraine?
A migraine is a type of a headache with varying intensity. Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound are the associated symptoms. A migraine can cause a throbbing pain only on one side of the head, but it can also occur on both sides of the head.
Migraine headaches affect people of all ages. It affects more women than men.
What causes a migraine?
Abnormal activity in the brain causes a migraine headache. This abnormal activity in the brain can be triggered by many things. However, what exactly causes this activity is not known to doctors. Most doctors and medical experts believe the migraine attack begins in the brain and involves chemicals and nerve pathways. The changes affect blood flow to the brain and surrounding tissues.
Migraines may run in families.
Migraine attacks can be triggered by a number of factors, including:
- Changes in hormone levels during a woman’s menstrual cycle or with the use of birth control pills
- Changes in the sleep-wake pattern
- Stress and anxiety
- Alcohol drinking
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Physical factors
- Loud noises
- Bright lights
- Missed meals
- Sensory stimuli
- Smoking or exposure to smoke
A migraine can also be triggered by certain foods, including:
- Dairy foods, especially certain cheeses
- Processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated foods
- Foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Foods with tyramine, which includes red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and certain beans
- Meats containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats)
- Fruits (avocado, banana, citrus fruit)
- Peanuts and other nuts and seeds
What are the symptoms of a migraine?
An intense headache on one side of the head is the main symptom of a migraine. Nausea and sensitivity to light and sound are the other common symptoms. Symptoms vary depending on the type of a migraine. There are two types of a migraine. One is a classic migraine, the other is a common migraine. In a classic migraine, an aura occurs before the onset of an actual migraine. Aura mostly occurs 10 to 15 minutes before a headache but can occur just a few minutes to 24 hours beforehand. A headache does not always follow an aura.
An aura is a group of neurologic symptoms. Aura symptoms are considered a warning sign that a migraine is coming. Mostly, symptoms related to vision occur and can include one or more of the following:
- Eye pain
- Blurred vision
- Temporary blind spots
- Temporary colored spots
- Tunnel vision (can only see objects close to the center of the vision field)
- Seeing stars, zigzag lines, or flashing lights
The following other neurological symptoms can occur:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble finding the right words
- Numbness and tingling
The headaches usually start as a dull ache and get worse within minutes to hours. They can be throbbing, pounding, or pulsating. The headaches can be worse on one side of the head with pain behind the eye or in the back of the head and neck. They can last 6 to 48 hours.
The following other symptoms may occur with a headache:
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased urination
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms may continue even after a migraine goes away. This is called a migraine hangover. The lingering symptoms can include:
- Dull mental feeling
- Trouble concentrating
- Inability to think clearly
- Neck pain
- Needing more sleep
How is a migraine diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose a migraine headache by reviewing your symptoms and family history of migraines. The doctor may perform a complete physical exam to find out if your headaches are due to muscle tension, sinus problems, or a brain disorder.
There is no specific test available to determine that a headache is actually a migraine. The doctor may order a CT scan or MRI of the brain. He/she may also order tests depending on the intensity of symptoms, such as weakness, memory problems, or loss of alertness. These tests are done to determine the cause of the symptoms.
How is a migraine treated?
There is no specific treatment available for curing migraine headaches. The aim of the treatment will be to alleviate the migraine symptoms immediately and to prevent symptoms by avoiding the triggers.
The doctor may recommend keeping a headache diary to help identify the headache patterns and triggers. This makes it easy for the doctor to formulate a plan to avoid these triggers.
The doctor may prescribe the following medicines to reduce the number of attacks if migraine attacks are frequent:
- Seizure medications
- Blood pressure medications
The doctor may also prescribe botulinum toxin type A (Botox) injections to help reduce migraine attacks if they occur more than 15 days a month.
Treatment For A Migraine Attack
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin may help alleviate a mild migraine headache. These should be taken at the first sign of a migraine attack and seek the doctor’s advice for further steps.
If the above treatments don’t work, your doctor may prescribe triptans. Triptans are a group of medicines, which includes nasal sprays, suppositories, or injections.
The doctor may prescribe other medicines to treat symptoms of a migraine, such as nausea and vomiting.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.