Many people think that a migraine is “just a bad headache.” A migraine is a complex neurological disorder caused by abnormal brain biochemistry. A headache is just one of many symptoms that occur with a migraine. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, vision changes, numbness, tingling, speech changes, dizziness, and many more. In the past, migraines were thought to be a vascular disorder. It is now believed that changes in blood vessels may play a role in migraines but the pathophysiology of a migraine is much more complex than that, involving neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain, electrical impulses, inflammation and the trigeminal nerve.
There are many treatment options for migraines. Acute treatments are ones that are geared at taking the migraine away when it occurs. While over the counter medications such as Excedrin Migraine or Ibuprofen can work well for some people, many people with migraines need special medication called “triptans” that work on the chemical process that is occurring during a migraine. Preventative treatments are ones that may help decrease the number and frequency of migraine attacks. Learning your triggers and adapting your lifestyle to include plenty of hydration, regular sleep, exercise and decreasing stress can play a huge role in decreasing the frequency of migraines. Many medications as well as alternative treatments can work well as preventative treatments for migraines but most people do best if they also adapt a few basic lifestyle changes.
Many people believe that they do not have a migraine if they do not get an aura but this is not true – only about 20% of people experiencing migraines get an aura. An aura is a change in any of your senses (such as vision), speech, balance, confusion, or physical symptoms such as numbness or weakness. It often occurs prior to head pain but can occur with the headache or after the headache has started. An aura is caused by changes in your brain chemistry. A visual aura is the most common type of aura and can be described as flashing lights, distortion of vision, zig zag lines, spots, blurring of vision, or tunnel vision.
The period following a migraine is called the prodrome stage. During this stage of a migraine, many people experience changes in their mood such as depression, fatigue or euphoria. Some people also experience excessive urination or tenderness of their skin or scalp.
If you think you have been experiencing migraines, make sure you talk to your health care provider. If you don’t currently have a health care provider, you can call 1-800-SWEDISH or visit www.swedish.org/physicians to find one that’s close to you.