Most people get headaches every now and then, known as tension headaches. These are generally less severe, rarely disabling, and can be treated easily with pain relief medication. Migraines, however, are different than normal headaches: they are extremely painful and are usually accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Of the more than 36 million Americans that suffer from migraines, 27 million are women -- this means that women suffer from migraines three times as often than men!
Migraines cause intense throbbing or pulsing sensations on one, or sometimes both, side of the head. Most people can feel the pain in the temples and behind one eye or one ear, although any part of the head can be involved in the pain. In addition to the pain, migraines can cause nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and temporary vision impairment such as seeing spots or flashing lights. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, fatigue, and diarrhea. The pain of a migraine can last from a few hours up to three days. Some people suffer from migraines once or twice a year, while others get them once or twice a week.
Not much is known about the causes of migraines. However, genetics and environmental factors seem to play a role in their onset. While the causes are not fully understood, experts do know that migraines react to a wide range of triggers including lack of sleep, hormone changes during the menstrual cycle, stress and anxiety, weather changes, caffeine (too much or withdrawal), and sensory stimuli such as bright light and loud sounds. The best way to find out your specific triggers is to make a headache or migraine diary including information on what time you got your migraine, what happened around the time you got it, what you ate/drank beforehand, how long the migraine lasted, and the severity of it. By keeping track of these things, it can be easier to see if the attacks are related to certain factors in your life.
While migraines cannot be cured, there are a variety of medications that treat them. There are many types of medications that help reduce the pain including pain relievers, triptans, ergots, and preventative medications. Which medications people use depends on the painfulness of the migraine and the consistency of the attacks.
Migraines can make life difficult by causing severe pain and wearing a person down. These attacks can make it impossible to continue day-to-day work and activities and have a major impact on performance and ability to concentrate. If you experience migraines, be sure to consult with your doctor to find the best solution to reduce your pain!