Migraine Headaches: Causes, Treatment & Symptoms

Migraine is the name given to a headache that evades the definition of a bad headache. It is a neurological disease that may be accompanied by crippling pulsating pain in one side of your head. Migraine pain can last for days at an end or be recurring. What causes migraine headaches? What are its symptoms? How can it be treated?

If you read this article till the end, you will be able to learn about migraine in great detail. We will not only answer the questions posed above but also offer information about migraine triggers, chronic migraine, migraine attacks, phases of a migraine attack, and everything in between.

In this article, we will first discuss what migraine is and how does it feels like. Then we will look at its symptoms, followed by its causes and types. We will follow it by discussing the phases of a migraine, migraine triggers, and how it can be passed on. You will also learn about the risk factors and finally sum it up with a diagnosis, treatment, home remedies, and preventive measures. So without further ado, let’s begin.

What is Migraine?

A migraine is a headache that often affects one side of your head and causes acute sharp pain or a pulsing sensation. It’s a common neurological condition that manifests itself in various ways.

Migraines are a form of headache that occurs regularly. Nausea, vomiting, and heightened sensitivity to sound, light, and other senses are common side effects.

Migraine attacks can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, and the pulsating pain and discomfort can be so intense that it interferes with your everyday activities.

Migraine can impact people in various ways, with variable triggers, intensity, symptoms, and frequency. Some people get multiple episodes per week, while others only get them once in a while.

A warning sensation known as an aura develops before or during the headache in some people. Visual disruptions, such as bursts of brightness or blind patches, might be part of an aura. Other symptoms could include prickling on any one side of the face, in a leg or arm, and speech difficulties.

What does Migraine Pain feel like?

Migraine headache pain can feel like a lot of things, but most people use terms such as throbbing, pulsating, pounding, perforating, debilitating, and crippling to describe it.

It can also be described as a severe, dull, and constant ache. It’s possible that the discomfort will be moderate at first. However, if left untreated, migraine headache pain can progress from mild to severe.

The forehead is the most prevalent site of migraine pain. It normally affects one side of your head, but it might affect both or shift.

The majority of migraine bouts last roughly four hours. They can linger anywhere from 72 hours to a week if not treated or if they don’t respond to treatment. Pain may coincide with or precede an aura in migraines with aura.

What is happening in the brain during a migraine?

In the case of migraines, they seem to your brain like an assault on you. As a result, your brain generates enormous reactions when triggers are activated with faulty electrical systems firing inside. Electrically induced changes occur in blood flow in the brain that causes nerve irritation in the arteries, causing pain in the brain.

The first step taken by your brainstem is to activate or trigger its nerve cells. This activation can be caused by a multitude of factors, such as a lack of sleep, eating habits, or hydration. Some other possibilities include magnesium deficiency, aberrant calcium pathways on the neuron’s surface, mitochondrial alterations, and other genetic problems.

A neuron conveys impulses down the trigeminal nerves, a key pain channel that starts in the brain stem and runs through your face, forehead, eyes, sinuses, and teeth, as well as to blood vessels on the brain’s surface. In reaction, these blood vessels dilate or enlarge.

Migraine Symptoms

The most common symptom of migraine is a headache. The sensation of pain might be described as hammering or pulsating. It might start as a mild headache and progress to moderate or severe throbbing pain.

Migraine Headaches Causes Treatment

The pain might go from one side of your head to the other, or it can impact the front of your head, the rear of your head, or your entire head. Some persons have pain in the area of their eye or temple, as well as in the sinuses, jaw, face, or even neck. You can also encounter neurological symptoms.

Some other migraine headache symptoms of migraine headaches can include:

  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and odor
  • Nausea and vomiting, as well as stomach aches and pains, are common side effects.
  • Appetite loss is common.
  • Skin that is light in color, a condition also called pallor
  • Feeling dizzy or having a blurred vision
  • Feeling extremely hot, to the point of sweating or extremely cold, along with chills
  • Feeling exhausted
  • Diarrhea, in some rare cases
  • Having a sensitive scalp
  • Difficulty speaking in some cases
  • Fever in some rare cases

What Causes Migraine Headaches?

The causes of migraines are complicated and not entirely understood. Environmental and genetic variables both appear to be involved. When you get a headache, your brain receives pain signals from certain nerves in your blood vessels.

Some inflammatory compounds are then released into your brain’s blood vessels and nerves as a consequence. It’s not obvious why nerves behave in this manner.

Changes in the brainstem and their interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a significant pain pathway, could be at play. Brain chemical imbalances, such as serotonin, which helps your nervous system control pain, may also play a role.

Serotonin’s involvement in migraines is currently being researched. Calcitonin gene-related peptides, as well as other neurotransmitters, play a function in migraine discomfort (CGRP).

Migraine types

There are a variety of migraine headaches, and these types include:

  • Common Migraine or Migraine without aura

This sort of migraine headache comes on suddenly, without the usual warning of an aura. 
Although the symptoms are similar, that stage does not occur.

  • Complicated Migraine or Migraine with aura

A migraine with aura is a strong headache that is accompanied by symptoms such as dizziness, ringing in the ears, erratic lines in your vision, or photosensitivity (sensitivity to light). An aura is experienced by about 15% to 20% of those who suffer from migraine headaches.

  • Hemiplegic migraine

Hemiplegic migraine is a rare condition in which people suffer from a migraine headache as well as weakness or momentary paralysis on one side of the body (known as hemiplegia). Migraine with aura is a common symptom among those who are affected.

  • Silent Migraine or Migraine with no pain in the head

If you have aura signs but no headache, you may have a silent migraine or acephalgic migraine. They can last anywhere from a few minutes and an hour. Chronic migraines can linger for days, weeks, or months in some people, but this isn’t the case with silent migraines.

  • Chronic migraines

Chronic migraine is seen as having a minimum of 15 headache days per month for a time frame greater than three months, with at least eight days of headaches that contain symptoms. Chronic headaches begin as sporadic headaches that progress to a more frequent headache pattern.

  • Retinal Migraine or Ocular Migraine

Retinal migraine (also known as ocular migraine) is an eye ailment that causes temporary blindness or visual abnormalities in one eye, such as flashing lights. These episodes can seem alarming, but they’re usually harmless and only last a few minutes, after which your vision returns to normal.

  • Migraine with brainstem aura or Basilar Migraine

Vertigo, blurred vision, slurred speech, or loss of balance are all symptoms of this migraine, and they appear before the headache. In this case of migraine, the back of your head may be affected by the pain. These symptoms usually strike unannounced and are accompanied by speech problems, ringing in the ears, and even vomiting.

What is an Aura?

A migraine aura is a collection of sensory, motor, and verbal symptoms that serve as warning signs that a migraine headache may be about to start. Often misdiagnosed as a stroke or seizure, it usually occurs before the onset of headache pain, but it can also occur during or after. Auras affect 15% to 20% of migraine sufferers.

Aura Migraine Symptoms

The symptoms of auras are reversible, which means they can be terminated or treated. An aura can cause a variety of symptoms, including visual symptoms:

  • Seeing lights, sparkles, or flashing patches.
  • Ringling or numb skin.
  • You have visual blind spots.
  • Changes in speech.
  • Seeing zig-zag or wavy lines.
  • Have tunnel vision
  • The sensation of ringing in the ears(tinnitus).
  • A “weird” sensation.
  • Temporary loss of vision.
  • Changes in taste or smell.

The Four Stages/Phases of Migraine

Migraine generally takes effect in four chronological phases/stages. These are as follows:

Prodrome

The first stage might last anywhere from a few hours to multiple days. It’s possible that you won’t notice it because it doesn’t happen every time. It’s referred to as the”premonitory” or “preheadache” phase by others. A majority of migraine patients detect symptoms like these before a headache:

  • Having a high sensitivity to light, sound, and scent
  • Excessive food cravings or a lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Extreme thirst
  • Bloating
  • Mood swings
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Aura

The aura stage can last anywhere from five to sixty minutes. The majority of people do not have an aura, although some people have both an aura and a headache. We have already discussed the aura symptoms.

  • Attack(headache)

A migraine attack/headache usually starts as a dull ache that progresses to excruciating pain. During vigorous exertion, it frequently gets worse. The pain may travel from one side of your head to the other, be at the front of your head, or impact your entire head.

A migraine attack typically lasts four hours, but severe cases can continue for up to three days. Two to four headaches per month are very usual.

  • Postdrome

This stage typically lasts one or two days. It’s known as a migraine “hangover,” and it affects the vast majority of people with the condition. The following are some of the signs and symptoms:

  • Feeling fatigued, drained, or irritable.
  • Muscle weakness or discomfort.
  • Feeling particularly energized or upbeat.
  • Craving for food or a lack of appetite.

Migraine Triggers

There are several factors that trigger migraines. These common factors affect a large population that suffers from migraine. Some prominent factors that trigger migraines are as follows:

  • Stress

Migraine headaches are caused by a variety of factors, including stress. Some chemicals in the brain are released during stressful events to help the body cope with the circumstance (it is called the “flight or fight” response). Migraines can be triggered by the release of these substances. Anxiety, concern, and excitement are examples of emotions that can cause muscle tension and blood vessel dilation.

  • Changes in hormones in women

Women suffer from migraines more frequently during their menstrual cycles. Migraines may be caused by a sudden change in progesterone and estrogen levels. Hormone replacement therapy (or hormone therapy) and birth control medications may also lead to hormonal changes.

  • Use of Caffeine and Alcohol

Caffeine overuse or withdrawal can result in headaches when the caffeine levels lower suddenly. Caffeine appears to sensitize your blood vessels, and you may experience a headache if you don’t get it.

Caffeine and Alcohol

Red wine is frequently cited as the most common alcoholic migraine cause. However, some researchers claim that different forms of alcohol can have the same impact. Occasionally, even more.

  • Eating habits and diet

Migraines may be triggered by pungent-smelling food items such as aged cheeses, salty, or processed foods. Skipping meals could have the same effect.

Food additives, including aspartame, a sweetener, and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a preservative found in many foods, maybe a factor.

Medication Overuse

  • Even an overuse of doctor prescribed acute migraine attacks medication may lead to a condition called medication overuse headache (MOH).

Light and sound

  • Natural light is the nemesis of many migraine sufferers. Photophobia is a medical term for this illness, and it is one of the migraine diagnostic criteria. Natural, intense light, as well as fluorescent or flickering bulbs, are troublesome, finding it challenging to spend time outside or in an office setting. Even some sounds can trigger the onset of migraine headaches.

Smell

  • A typical symptom of migraine is osmophobia (aversion to scents). Certain scents can activate nerve receptors in the nasal passages, triggering or exacerbating a migraine attack.
  • Some other migraine triggers include:
  • Changing weather, including pressure changes, strong winds, storm fronts 
  • Being exhausted.
  • There are loud noises.
  • Irregular sleep schedule
  • Either you’re on a diet or not getting enough water.
  • Smoke, perfumes, and other scents
  • Blood vessels swell when you take some drugs.

Can migraines be cured?

Migraine cannot be cured. However, medicines can help prevent migraines or stop your disease or the symptoms from recurring. You can prevent other things that cause migraines. It is also advisable to make lifestyle changes such as reducing stress or sleeping well.

Migraine Risk Factors

Age

There’s no minimum or maximum age for the onset of migraine headaches. But migraines tend to peak while you are in your 30s.

Sex

Women have three times more chances of suffering from migraines.

Family History

If someone in your family suffers from migraines, there’s a possibility that you could too.

Hormonal Changes

Migraine headaches might start just before or after menstruation for women who suffer from migraines — known as menstrual migraine. During pregnancy or menopause, they may also change. Migraines usually get better after menopause.

Migraine diagnosis

If you’re in a serious condition, the doctor may want to know more about you. This could be useful for you if you keep a log of all the symptoms. A healthcare professional needs a complete medical history, including not just your own but also your family’s history of headaches to diagnose a migraine. They’ll also want to know about your migraine symptoms. They can ask you to: 

  • Describe the clear headache symptoms and their severity.
  • Describe the type of pain(throbbing, pulsating, pounding, etc.) and its location.
  • Pinpoint the time when the pain occurs.
  • Remember if there’s anything that affects your headache for the better or worse.
  • Talk about the frequency of migraine headaches.
  • Discuss the medication that you might be taking to relieve migraine pain.
  • Discuss your feelings before, during, and after a migraine episode.
  • Talk about the activities, stressors, food habits, or any other situation that could have started the headache.

Migraine Treatment

Migraines are a type of headache that occurs regularly. They can’t be healed, but they can be controlled and, in some cases, even improved. There are two types of medication-based treatments: abortive and preventative.

Abortive medications assist in stopping or reducing your migraine symptoms, such as pain, nausea, photosensitivity, and so on, by perhaps terminating the headache process. Some abortive medicines restrict your blood vessels, restoring normalcy and alleviating the throbbing discomfort. These are used when the pain is mild.

Preventive medications are taken when the headaches are severe and occur more than four times a month. Certain medications help reduce the severity and frequency of migraine headaches.

Your healthcare professional or family physicians may include the following as a part of the treatment:

  • Stress management and minimizing migraine triggers are among the lifestyle changes that can be made.
  • Prescription migraine drugs that you take daily to help prevent migraine headaches and minimize the frequency with which they occur.
  • Prescription migraine drugs are taken as soon as an attack begins to prevent it from getting severe and to alleviate symptoms and pain relief.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen are examples of over-the-counter pain or migraine remedies (Tylenol).
  • Meditation, acupressure, and acupuncture are examples of alternative treatments.
  • Anti-nausea and anti-vomiting drugs are available on prescription.

Tell me the best time to call a doctor?

You should see your physician immediately or visit a hospital if you are having continuous or recurring bouts of migraine pain. The sooner, the better.

Conclusion

We have covered the symptoms, causes, and treatments of migraine headaches in this article. We hope it helps you understand the condition better.

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