What is a Migraine?

A migraine is a common type of headache that can cause significant pain for hours or even days.  These special types of headaches tend to appear in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood and are caused by abnormal brain activity.  These types of headaches effect 12% of the population, and tend to affect women more than men.  Migraines are most common in people between the ages of 30-39, and there is often a strong family history.  In fact, genetics may account for up to 50% of a person’s susceptibility to migraine.

There are the several types of migraine headaches, one common form is called a “complex migraine.” This type causes neurologic symptoms such as weakness, loss of vision or difficulty speaking. Complex migraines may also be mistaken for a stroke – which is why it is imperative to stay informed about conditions you suffer from and can more easily identify them if they are being triggered.

Most migraine attacks occur in 4 phases known as migraine prodrome, Migraine aura, Migraine headache, and Migraine postdrome.  Here is the sequence of events:

1.       Prodrome: This can be characterized by any of the following: euphoria, depression, irritability, food cravings, constipation, neck stiffness, increased yawning.

2.       Aura: This the term used for focal neurologic symptoms that occur in 25% of people with migraines. Auras are most often visual (bright spots for example), but can also be sensory, verbal, or motor disturbances. In this reporter’s case, her symptoms were verbal.

3.       Headache: usually unilateral, throbbing, pulsatile and lasts from 1 to several hours. Can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting

4.       Postdrome: exhausted, tired feeling. Patients can also have pain in area of previous headache when they move their neck suddenly.

There are many exacerbating factors that can trigger a migraine, the most common ones being:

·         Emotional stress

·         Hormones imbalances (for women)

·         Not eating

·         Weather

·         Sleep disturbances

·         Odors

Most migraines resolve on their own, but there are certain therapies available for those who experience migraines.  For people currently experiencing a migraine, symptoms can be treated with medications ranging from NSAIDS and Tylenol to triptans and ergotamine.  For others who have a proven history of migraines which interfere with daily life, antihypertensives, tricyclic antidepressants, and certain types of anticonvulsants can be used as treatment. Specific treatment choice is obviously dependent on your past medical history and specific health profile.