Typically characterized by a pulsing sensation or an intense throbbing, a migraine headache differs from a regular tension headache in that symptoms are more severe, sometimes predictive of attacks and often recurring. Migraines are also a type of headache that can return with equal or greater intensity if not treated. Due to the complex nature of this type of headache, treatment is personalized based on reported symptoms, frequency of episodes, and likely triggers.
It’s believed migraine headaches result from a combination of environmental factors and genetics, although there is still much that’s not fully understood about migraines. It’s difficult to conclusively identify genetic links since symptoms can vary greatly even among relatives. Migraines may be linked to changes within the brainstem.
There’s related research suggesting levels of serotonin, a chemical affecting the nervous system, drop during an attack, which may trigger the release of neuropeptides, substances that travel to the outer layer of the brain, possibly resulting in a migraine headache. Fluctuations in estrogen may trigger migraines in women with a history of such headaches.
Migraines are unique in that you may notice signs of an upcoming attack a day or two before it occurs. Episodes can result in pain that lasts anywhere from hours to days, although the average duration is 4 to 72 hours, with symptoms ranging from mild to debilitating. Just before an attack occurs, sensory warning (aura) symptoms that can include flashes of light, tingling in arms or legs, and blind spots may appear.
Since sensitivity to light is often associated with an attack, most sufferers are in the habit of finding a dark, quiet place to rest until symptoms ease. After an attack (postdrome), sufferers may feel drained or even mildly euphoric. Symptoms that may occur before or during a migraine include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heightened sensitivity to light and sound
- Tingling in arms or legs
- Pins and needles sensations
- Speech or language difficulties
- Blurred vision
Treatment for migraines can be focused on minimizing the actual symptoms when attacks are severe or preventative to reduce the occurrences of future headaches. If you have frequent attacks, treatment will likely include both approaches. Other than improving overall quality of life, there’s also an emphasis on identifying and reducing triggers to minimize migraine episodes.Acute treatment for migraines involves the use of pain-relieving medications, which should be carefully monitored with medication management techniques to reduce the risk of interactions or dependency. Preventative medications are usually taken daily to minimize episodes. Treatment options may also include:
- Migraine-specific medications
- Anti-nausea medications
- Psychotherapy to reduce stress
- Dietary modifications
There is no cure for migraine headaches. However, pain management tailored to your symptoms may help minimize episodes. How your migraines are managed depends on the severity of the headaches you experience, the degree of your disability when headaches occur, and any preexisting medical conditions. While migraines aren’t likely to completely disappear, comprehensive management that includes preventative measures benefits many sufferers.
If you suffer from migraines and need relief, Contact Allied Pain & Spine Institute today to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.