What is a Migraine?

Hello friends!

I hope you’re having a pain free day today. My goal for this post is to provide a source of knowledge for you about migraine disease through a series of educational posts. I strongly believe that education is power, and I take pride in my personal research and attention to going’s on in the world of Migraines. As well as outlining some of the basics, I will attempt to provide links and additional resources for further research. Feel free to share this post with anyone in your life that asks you about migraine disorder, or if you feel that they could use further education to help them understand you and your needs better.

What is a Migraine, and who gets them? 

Migraine disorder is a complex neurological condition. It is always there in a person afflicted, whether or not they are symptomatic at the time. A migraine attack consists of a myriad of possible symptoms, and sometimes head pain is not even one of the symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Throbbing, or pulsing head pain, often on one side of the head
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Vision changes
  • Aura
  • Limb numbness
  • Tingling in the face or hands
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea

The list goes on and on. Not everyone experiences all of these symptoms, but they are disabling nonetheless. Migraine disorder affects 17% of women in the U.S., while only 6% of men are affected. Migraine is the 3rd most common disorder in the world, affecting almost 1 in 4 households in the United States! Migraine is also the 6th most disabling disease in the world. If one experiences 15 or more headache days a month, this is considered chronic migraine. As many as 4 million people in the Unites States have chronic migraine.

What are the stages of a Migraine Attack?

  1. Prodrome- This first phase which can start as early as a few days prior to an attack. Some common symptoms are neck stiffness, yawning, increased thirst, etc.
  2. Aura- This stage can occur prior to, or during an attack. Auras can involve sensory, motor, or verbal disturbances. Some of the most common examples or aura are visual phenomena, weakness or numbness on one side of the face, hearing noises or music, or vision loss. Aura can be incredibly disruptive and upsetting when experienced for the first time. These symptoms usually begin slowly and increase over the course of 20 minutes to an hour.
  3. Headache- The frequency of these attacks vary. Some symptoms experienced are listed in the graphic below. 
  4. Post-drome- This is the final phase of the migraine, once the pain has subsided. Some feel elated, while I usually feel like I have a hangover, hence the term “migraine hangover”, which is often attribute to this phase. Many people experience dizziness, confusion, moodiness or weakness.

Phases of Migraine

What is a trigger?

Migraine, as we’ve learned, is a neurological disorder. However, many different factors can influence, or trigger the occurrence of, a migraine attack. According to statistics, women are almost 3 times more likely to have Migraine disorder than men, and 85% of those who suffer from chronic migraine are women. Some other factors that affect the prevalence of migraine are

  • Hormonal changes
  • Sleep (too much or too little)
  • Caffeine
  • The environment, or the weather
  • Food, or lack of it- milk, cheese, sugary snacks, chocolate, bananas, etc.
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Let down migraines- after a big or stressful event, I will almost always get one
  • Alcohol

Migraine Triggers

A common thread here, is that those who suffer from migraines have very sensitive brains. We are sensitive to changes that go on within our bodies, and changes around us. Consistency with meal times, sleep, and hydration can help a lot of people prevent migraine attacks.

Do people with Migraines sometimes suffer from other conditions too?

Yes, these are called comorbid conditions. This term is used to describe when a conditions occurs simultaneously with, although not necessarily due to, migraines. Some examples of comorbid conditions associated with migraine disorder are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia

Most patients experience one or more comorbidities, due to migraine’s association with other disorders.

How do we treat them?

Migraines are unfortunately incurable, but they can be treated. The treatment of migraine is split into three main categories. Preventatives, abortives, and rescue medications. Many patients take anti-depressants, anti-seizure medication, beta-blockers, or anti-inflammatories daily to prevent migraines. Abortive medications are most effective when taken at the first sign of a migraine attack. These usually include triptans, or over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil or Excedrin. Rescue mediations are often a last resort. If abortives have failed, one must rely on opioids or steroids. These options are not ideal, because they can often cause rebound headaches, which are often caused by the overuse of pain relieving medications by someone with a headache disorder. Other medications can also help relieve symptoms of migraine such as anti-nausea medications, or medications to help you sleep, can often facilitate some relief.

Others have more success with the more natural route There are supplements that help some reduce migraine frequency, such as magnesium, calcium, and other natural herbs. Other non-medicinal treatments for migraine include exercise, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractics. I personally have not had much success with any of the above, but they are worth a shot because many others have!

The bad news, is that many of these medications have side effects, some of which can be worse than the migraine attack itself. I don’t want to scare anyone with horror stories, but I have experienced some incredibly unpleasant side effects. It is important to ALWAYS ask your doctor about the side effects of a new medication, as well as any potential interactions between medications, so that you can make an educated decision when it comes to treatment.

Another thing you may have noticed when I discussed preventative medications, is that most of them are actually meant to treat another medical condition. There are very few options on the market as of now that specifically cater to Migraine Disorder. I am going to insert quote from another article below by a woman named Holly Baddeur, because it is so eloquent and accurate that paraphrasing it would be a serious disservice to her and to you:

“Doctors are left stitching together individualized approaches for each patient from a world of medications not intended for migraine. People with migraines are left knitting together their own treatment strategies, desperate for relief. Each person creates a combination of prescription, OTC medications, nutritional supplements, and perhaps other remedies and body therapies. These realities often leave the migraine patient feeling like a guinea pig- juggling various side effects atop the migraines.”

Treating Migraines

Why aren’t there more options for such a debilitating disease?

The god’s honest truth is that there is nowhere near enough funding. As of 2016, the National Institute of Health spent $18 million on Migraine research. That sounds like a lot, but considering it affects 38 million people in the Unites States, that is less than 50 cents a person! Compared to Alzheimer’s Disease, which affects 5 million people in the U.S. but gets $185.50 per person, not including the $35 which is allocated to Alzheimer’s-related dementia research. Or to the 1.1 million Americans with HIV/AIDS, who get $2,727 allocated for research per person. I am clearly not saying that those people deserve less money. Those diseases are horrible and debilitating. But so is Migraine Disorder. Migraine disorder needs more funding so we can have better solutions, and a better understanding of this complex and disabling illness.

Want to know more?

Here are some resources that I have personally used, in addition to those linked throughout this article. If you want me to expand on anything in this post, let me know below. I truly hope this was helpful in some way!

  1. http://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/
  2. https://migraine.com/migraine-basics/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201
  4. https://www.speakyourmigraine.com/nobody-understands-my-migraine-pain/?gclid=CjwKCAjwmqHPBRBQEiwAOvbR81KkazQ5gZj-lVcnZp-rajjwB00OvdjM4gc_ZYRD4RX_oGGfYzTmqBoCXo0QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds&dclid=CMPKhLvh_dYCFQS7TwodLoUG8g
  5. http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20537878,00.html
  6. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org You can donate here! 
  7. https://www.scienceofmigraine.com/?WT.srch=1&gclid=CjwKCAjwmqHPBRBQEiwAOvbR8-VJ5cUL8d2Pvmd1QogkW9cVmsx01J-Y5VZ53UVa13oot6bpvS0-nRoCq-gQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds&dclid=CPPB4t3h_dYCFQI-TwodXqYDXA

That should be enough to get you started 🙂

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