Everything You Need to Know About Migraines

Daniel Marcus';

By Daniel Marcus

Posted on September 30th, 2021 in News, Myths & Tips

As a tremendously prevalent neurological disease, migraine currently affects 39 million people across the U.S. Unsurprisingly, everyone knows someone who struggles with migraine or has to deal with it themselves.

Migraine is the third most common illness worldwide, and it occurs in roughly 12% of the global population. To get a clearer idea with regard to the prevalence of migraines, you should know that 1 in 4 households in our country includes a person with migraines.

Heredity plays a crucial role when it comes to migraines, as up to 90% of people who have this condition have a family history of it. Sadly, migraines can be so painful that they can become disabling. In fact, migraine is the sixth most incapacitating condition in the world. Every 10 seconds, one American visits the emergency room complaining of severe headaches, whereas 1.2 million people visit the emergency room for acute migraine attacks.

Migraines - Facts and Statistics

Contrary to popular belief, migraine is not a type of headache but a serious neurological disease that makes the person experience incapacitating symptoms. A migraine attack generally lasts between 4 hours and 72 hours, so you can only imagine the excruciating pain of someone diagnosed with this neurological condition.

A noteworthy fact is that the vast majority of people who live with migraines are women – 85% of chronic sufferers of migraines are female. 1 out of 4 women will have a migraine at some point during their life. Throughout our country, migraines affect 28 million women. Half of the women with migraines experience more than one attack every month, and a quarter has 4 or more severe attacks every month.

Surprisingly, many children suffer from migraines as well. According to studies, approximately 10% of school-age children experience migraines, whereas 28% of teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 struggle with this condition.

How Do Migraines Usually Manifest?

In most people, migraines occur in stages, and being aware of what each stage entails will help you take the measures that are necessary to prevent the migraine or at least to alleviate it. Here are the 4 stages that are specific to migraines.

1. Prodrome

Several days or several hours before a migraine occurs, up to 60% of people will notice the following symptoms:

  • fatigue
  • sensitivity to sound, light, and smell
  • food cravings or lack of appetite
  • severe thirst
  • mood changes
  • bloating and constipation

When you become mindful of the fact that you are experiencing the prodrome stage of a migraine, you should immediately take a medication such as a triptan, which may stop the migraine.

2. Aura

It is essential to note that not everyone who struggles with migraines will go through this stage, as some types of migraines occur without aura. Aura refers to a series of sensory disturbances, which include the following:

  • seeing black dots or flashes of light
  • having tunnel vision
  • inability to see
  • not being able to speak clearly
  • numbness on one side of the body
  • having ringing in your ears

This stage typically occurs within one hour before the migraine sets in, and the duration of the aura is less than 60 minutes.

3. Attack

Migraines begin as a dull ache and turn into throbbing pain, worsening with physical activity. The headache can move from one side to the other and can feel like it is located in the front of your head or like it is affecting your entire head. Approximately 80% of people who suffer from migraines also experience nausea during this stage, while 50% also have to deal with vomiting.

During a migraine attack, you may appear clammy and pale or feel faint. Although the majority of migraines last 4 hours, in severe cases, they can last 3 days. The frequency of migraines varies from individual to individual. Some people will have a migraine 2 to 4 times a month, while others will experience it every few days.

4. Postdrome

As the last stage of a migraine, postdrome can last up to one day after the migraine. The symptoms include the following:

  • feeling tired, cranky, or wiped out
  • muscle pain or weakness
  • feeling refreshed or happy
  • food cravings or lack of appetite

What Are the Risk Factors for Migraines?

There are multiple risk factors for migraines, which overlap the triggers for this neurological disease. It is very important to be aware of these risk factors if you struggle with migraines, as you will know what to avoid in the future. The following is a list of what can trigger the onset of a migraine:

  • skipping meals
  • too much or too little sleep
  • stressful events
  • tobacco smoking
  • anxiety or depression
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • loud or sudden noises
  • weather changes
  • hormonal changes in women
  • drinking too much caffeine
  • bright or flashing lights
  • strong smells

Furthermore, age and family history play a significant role when it comes to the risk factors for migraines. Accordingly, most people begin having migraines in their 30s, and their intensity and frequency tend to decrease with age. If you have one or more people in your family who suffer from migraines, you are more likely to develop this condition.

One of the most serious complications that can arise from migraines concerns taking painkillers too often to alleviate the migraine. This can lead to medication-overuse headaches in addition to migraines. The medications that pose the highest risk in this respect are aspirin, caffeine combinations, and acetaminophen. Moreover, it was found that Aspirin and Ibuprofen can also trigger medication-overuse headaches if you take these for over 14 days a month. Lastly, if you take Sumatriptan or Rizatriptan for more than 9 days a month, you may develop this health complication as well.

It is worthy of note that certain foods can trigger a migraine, too, including:

  • aspartame
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • chocolate
  • aged cheese
  • monosodium glutamate
  • some fruits and nuts
  • fermented or pickled foods
  • cured or processed meats

Therefore, to prevent the occurrence of a migraine, it is best to avoid these foods and to take as few drugs as possible for pain relief. Nevertheless, there are many other ways in which you can lower your risk of experiencing a migraine, which will be explained in the section below.

How to Avoid Migraines

A migraine is more than a simple headache, as it can make the person who has it feel extreme pain, as well as symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and sensitivity to smell, light, and sound. If you are dealing with migraines as well, you may wonder how you can reduce their frequency. The following is a list of practical advice on how to avoid migraines:

  • stay away from loud noises and flashing lights, as these stimuli can easily trigger a migraine, so you may want to avoid driving at night, going to clubs or crowded venues, and going to the cinema
  • take frequent breaks from watching TV and adjust the brightness level on every digital screen that you use, such as your computer and your phone
  • keep a migraine diary to identify your triggers, as every person with migraines has different triggers, and this will help you find a pattern and know what to avoid in the future
  • be aware of hormonal changes, since most women experience migraines before or during their period, and try to take preventive measures during this time, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, which will lower your risk of migraine
  • take supplements such as herbs and minerals, especially magnesium, as it is known that a low level of magnesium in the body can lead to the occurrence of migraines
  • minimize the time you spend in weather that triggers your migraines, such as weather with high humidity and hot temperatures, as well as rainy days
  • keep your stress levels as low as possible, as stress is a major risk factor for migraines, by using relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or biofeedback

Are There Multiple Types of Migraine?

Yes, there are multiple types of migraines. In general, migraines are categorized depending on the symptoms the patient experiences. The most common types of migraine are migraine with aura, which is also known as classic migraine, and migraine without aura.

Nonetheless, there are numerous other kinds of migraine, as follows:

  • menstrual migraine: it occurs just before or during your menstrual period
  • silent migraine: also known as acephalgic migraine, it causes the person to have the symptoms associated with a regular migraine, but no headache
  • vestibular migraine: it can take place with or without a headache and is accompanied by vertigo, balance problems, nausea, and vomiting, being most common in people who have motion sickness
  • abdominal migraine: there are few things known about this type of migraine, but what we know is that it causes stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting and is more likely to occur in children and to develop into classic migraine over the years
  • hemiplegic migraine: during this migraine, you will experience a short period of paralysis or weakness on one side of your body, and you may also notice dizziness, vision changes, and numbness
  • ophthalmic migraine: also known as ocular or retinal migraine, it causes temporary loss of vision in one eye, as well as a dull ache behind the eye, which may subsequently affect your entire head
  • migraine with brainstem aura: with this migraine, the pain affects the back of your head in most cases, and the symptoms occur suddenly, which include difficulty speaking, vomiting, and ringing in the ears
  • status migrainosus: this is the type of migraine that can last up to 72 hours and implies excruciating pain that requires the person to go to the emergency room immediately
  • ophthalmoplegic migraine: it may be a medical emergency, as this kind of migraine may be the result of pressure on the nerves behind the eye or an aneurysm, and the symptom the individual will experience is pain around one eye accompanied by the paralysis of the muscles around it

Because some of these migraines cause extreme pain, the sufferer must seek medical assistance immediately. However, driving themselves to the hospital is out of the question if they are experiencing a severe migraine, as it can be very dangerous. Instead, the person with the excruciating headache should ask a family member or a friend to get them to the nearest hospital.

What Treatments Are Available for Migraines?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for migraines at the moment, but if you have this condition, your healthcare provider will prescribe you medication or a medical device to keep the symptoms under control or to decrease the frequency of your migraines. There are many treatments for migraine, some of the most popular and effective being:

  • painkillers: over-the-counter painkillers such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Acetaminophen are quite good in alleviating the symptoms of a migraine, but they should not be abused, as the person puts themselves at risk of developing tolerance and medication-overuse headaches
  • nausea medicine: since most people with migraines also experience severe nausea, a medication that reduces nausea is often prescribed as well
  • triptans: the purpose of this category of drugs is to balance the chemicals in your brain, and they include Almotriptan, Sumatriptan, Eletriptan, Rizatriptan, and Zolmitriptan
  • Ergotamine: this medication also helps balance the chemicals in your brain
  • Lasmiditan: it reduces nausea, pain, and sensitivity to light and sound
  • CGRP receptor antagonists: if treatment with other medication does not work, your doctor may prescribe you Rimegepant or Ubrogepant
  • single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation: you should place this medical device on the back of your head at the beginning of a migraine with aura, as it sends a pulse of magnetic energy to your brain that can alleviate or even stop the pain

Our final advice is that if you experience a very painful migraine, you should go to the emergency room immediately, as sometimes, there is an underlying cause for migraines. Even if there is no underlying cause, in rare cases, you can develop serious health complications as a result of a severe migraine, so it is best to stay on the safe side and seek medical assistance. This is the only way you can find out if the pain you experience due to your migraine is normal or if there is a more serious issue at work.