Coping with Migraines
If you’ve ever experienced the intense pain of a migraine headache, you are not alone. It has been estimated that nearly 28 million Americans suffer from migraines, but only about half receive treatment. Understanding what triggers migraines, and communicating your symptoms openly with your physician, can help determine the best treatment for you.
Migraines are intense headaches that can get in the way of your daily activities. Some possible symptoms of migraines include:
- intense pain or throbbing on one or both sides of your head
- nausea or vomiting
- sensitivity to light or sound
- blurred vision
Migraines may last from a few hours to several days or even weeks. Some people experience them once or twice a year, while others suffer from them daily.
There are many types of migraines, but the two most common are:
Classic migraines: These begin with warning signs, called an aura, which usually last about 15 to 30 minutes. You may temporarily lose some of your vision, or you may see flashing lights and colors. You may also feel a burning or muscle weakness on one side of your body, along with feelings of depression, restlessness or irritability. The head pain usually follows an aura, and can occur on one or both sides of your head.
Common migraines: These do not begin with an aura. Instead, you may crave certain foods, or feel tired, depressed, irritable or anxious two hours to several days before the head pain begins. Common migraines may only cause pain on one side of the head, but they usually last longer than classic migraines.
There are several theories that explain the possible causes of migraines. One theory states that migraines occur when there is a decrease in the level of the chemical serotonin in the body. Certain foods, your blood sugar level, and changes in a woman’s estrogen level can affect the level of serotonin in the body. Another theory suggests that the throbbing pain of migraines occurs when blood vessels become narrow, and then widen.
Certain things can trigger migraines in some people, such as:
- bright lights, loud noises, strong odors
- certain foods
- fatigue, stress, depression, repressed anger
- changes in sleep patterns
- weather changes
- skipping meals
- menstrual periods, hormones or birth control pills
To help prevent migraines, try to avoid foods or other things that may trigger them. Also, cope with stress in a healthy way, such as through exercise, an enjoyable hobby, or anything that helps you relax.
To help relieve the pain of a migraine attack, try lying in a quiet, dark room with a cold cloth on your forehead. You can also try massaging your scalp, or putting pressure on your temples. Some over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, Tylenol, Excedrin Migraine, Advil, Motrin, Nuprin or Aleve may help.
If you experience migraines more than twice a month, or if they prevent you from performing daily activities, your doctor may prescribe a medication. It is important to tell your primary care physician if you are experiencing migraines, or if you think you have experienced one. Open and honest communication with your physician can help him or her determine the best treatment options for you.