Migraine headaches are the third most common medical condition worldwide, according to Migraine Canada.1 They are also prevalent in Canadian households, affecting about 2.7 million people.2 A migraine is not a one-size-fits-all problem, though. People get them for different reasons and at different intensity levels. The same person can experience migraines in different ways, as well.
The real question is how you can treat migraines. How can you find migraine relief once you feel one coming?
What are migraines?
A migraine is a primary headache, meaning not caused by a separate medical problem, characterized by throbbing pain typically on one side of the head.3 It can bring with it sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting.
Some people also experience an aura or warning signs of an impending migraine. Auras can be flashing lights or a funny smell. There can be vision loss or a feeling of pins and needles on one side of their face. They may have trouble speaking or coming up with words, as well.4
How common are migraines?
Most people experience headaches, but fewer have migraines. They tend to affect one in every five women and one in every 15 men. Women may get them more due to hormone fluctuations associated with their periods.5
The frequency can help classify them:6
- Episodic – You get them less than 15 days a month.
- Frequent episodic – You get them between 7 to 14 days a month.
- Chronic – You get 15 or more migraines each month along with eight days or more of symptoms such as an aura or a postdrome, a time after the headache when you might feel sick, tired, and confused.
Types of migraine headaches
There is more than one type of migraine, as well. The types describe the symptoms, such as7:
- Migraine without aura – There is no warning sign of an impending migraine.
- Migraine with aura – You get warning signs of an impending migraine.
- Ocular migraine – A migraine that starts with a visual disturbance.
Migraines can also be classified by triggers such as menstrual or allergic migraines. These classifications are less formal because one person can have multiple triggers.4
What are the symptoms of a migraine?
No two people experience a migraine the same way, but there are some common symptoms, such as:4
- Throbbing pain on one side of the head
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Sensitivity to smells
Additionally, migraines typically occur through four stages4:
- Prodrome: Signs that may warn of an upcoming migraine e.g., food craving, fluid retention or mood changes.
- Aura: Not everyone experiences this visual symptom, but if they do, it is typically in the form of visual signs such as bright spots or flashes lights in your vision.
- Attack: This is when the migraine pain occurs and you suffer the symptoms mention above.
- Post-drome: This is the stage after the migraine attack ends; you may feel tired, confused, and drained.
What causes migraines?
There are many pieces to a migraine headache; some are not well understood. At its core, a migraine involves the sudden dilation of blood vessels in the brain. The rush of blood irritates the substances inside the brain and the membrane surrounding it.8
Understanding triggers play a significant role in developing migraine treatments. Some examples of triggers include:4
- Women's hormonal change – Many women get headaches when their estrogen levels fluctuate, such as before or during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause.
- Drinks like alcohol, particularly wine, and excessive caffeine consumption, such as caffeinated tea, soda, or coffee.
- Stress – Migraines can be brought on by stress.
- Stimuli – Lights that flash, as well as loud sounds, can cause migraines. Strong odors or secondhand smoke can cause headaches, as well.
- Sleeping patterns – Some individuals might acquire migraines from not sleeping enough or sleeping too much.
- Physical activity – Mostly intense physical effort, including exercise or sex.
- The weather shifts – Such as changes in barometric pressure.
- Medications – Such as oral contraceptives or vasodilators like nitroglycerin.
- Foods – Aged cheeses, as well as processed meals, may cause migraines. Meal skipping may also be harmful.
- Food additives – Such as sweeteners or preservatives like monosodium glutamate (MSG),
How to treat a migraine
Home remedies for migraines start with figuring out ways to stop the pain. Motrin liquid gels, for example, contain a fast-acting anti-inflammatory pain reliever, Ibuprofen, that help with mild to moderate migraines. Many find taking them at the onset of a headache will prevent it.
Please note that this product may not be right everyone, always read and follow the label.
Other home remedies might include placing a cold towel on your forehead or the back of your neck while you rest and massaging your neck and the back of your head.
Also, eating anti-inflammatory food before a migraine or as part of your diet might have benefits. Foods such as blueberries, salmon, and mint have natural anti-inflammatory properties.9
Ways to prevent migraines
If you have migraines regularly, you understand how critical prevention is as part of managing them. The first step is to know your triggers. Start keeping a migraine diary. As you feel a migraine coming on, right down the date and time, then everything that might be a trigger, such as what you ate and drank. Write down what you were doing and what was going on around you. Also, learn what you can do at the onset that might prevent the migraine. For example, taking pain medication might help.
Little things can make all the difference in preventing migraines, too. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential for migraine relief. Eat a nutritious diet, preferably with some anti-inflammatory foods, drink at least eight glasses of water daily; keep your daily caffeine intake low; get six to eight hours of sleep each night; exercise; and manage stress.4
How do I know if I have a migraine or just a headache?
A migraine attack is characterized by moderate to severe—even unbearable—head discomfort. The discomfort is usually concentrated in one location of the head (one side or both, front or back, behind the eyes or the cheekbones) and might feel like throbbing or pulsing.10
How long do migraines last?
It varies from person to person and even per attack. For some, a migraine could last a few hours or a few days.10
What should I do if I feel a migraine coming?
For most, the best thing to do is to take a migraine treatment like pain medication immediately and stay in a dim, quiet room. That may prevent the migraine from occurring or at least dull the pain.10
Migraines can be quite uncomfortable overall and can really cause a dent in your day! The best treatment is prevention, like exercise, sleeping well and managing stress. Don’t forget, pain from migraines can be helped by taking over-the-counter medication such as Motrin.
If you are getting migraines for the first time, see a healthcare provider to rule out a more serious cause. Also, see a doctor if your migraines are uncontrollable with home care or if they come with dizziness, unconsciousness, fever, or mental confusion.
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