When is a Headache a Migraine Headache?


Have you missed  work  again  because  of a paralyzing headache?  You might  be suffering  from migraine,  yet not  know it.

What is  the difference between a regular  headache and a  migraine?

Common headaches are  usually characterized  by  pressure  encircling the  head,  with  the  pressure  most likely concentrated  on the  areas above the  eyebrows while with migraine, the  pain is usually on one side  of the head, accompanied  with  constant throbbing.

Some  may  experience  warnings (auras)  such as  seeing bright spots, zigzag lines  or  blurred  vision,  or sometimes tingling  of  the arms and  lips or numbness. Migraine  can also  include  nausea, dizziness, vomiting and escalated sensibility to sound , smell and  light.

 If you  have  these  symptoms, then  you might need to consult a physician.

Migraine is more common  to occur to  women  than in  men because of their fluctuating levels of estrogen. The National Headache  Foundation  estimates  that  around  30 million Americans are affected  and  is mostly to occur  3 times higher in women  than in men. Studies  have  shown   that   the pain  comes from the rubbing of  the dilated  and constricted blood  vessels  against  other parts  of the  brain, hence the indescribable pain.

Chemicals  such as of prostaglandins, serotonin and other inflammatory substances are released  from  the nerve fibers that coil around these blood vessels which  causes further  inflammation.  The attacks  can  last  up to  3  days.

The  exact cause of  the dilation and constriction is still  not known,  but studies  point to  multiple  triggers,  although  these may  actually vary from person to person; what  affects  one  individual  may not necessarily  affect  another  person. You  can  avoid migraine by knowing what your  triggers  are.

 The most  common  are:

  • Hormonal fluctuation.  This can include  hormonal changes  during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and   menopause, or those who are in  hormone  replacement  therapy  or those  taking  birth control pills.
  • Changing weather conditions. Change in  altitude, rapid  rise in  barometric pressure,  temperature and  humidity  and even strong  winds may  trigger migraine attacks.
  • Skipping meals
  • Not getting enough sleep or even  oversleeping.  It  is  but natural  for   people   who had little  time to sleep, but   you may also  hear  people   who   overslept complain  about  having  headache. Changes   in sleeping  pattern   may  also  trigger migraine. This is  common  with people  who work on shifting schedules.
  • I've had a migraine/headache for 6 days straig...
    I’ve had a migraine/headache for 6 days straight. Today was so bad I couldn’t concentrate on what I was saying. I’m not even sure I knew WHAT I was saying because of the pain. I even mixed up two people’s names and felt really dumb afterwards. Anyone got a migraine cure? 🙂 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Emotional stress. When stressed, certain  chemicals are released in the  brain to  to  deal with  the situation  (known  as the  “flight or fight” response.)  Over-excitement, anger, fear  and anxiety   may  fire up migraine  attacks.

  • Foods  rich  in tyramine, a compound  found in certain foods, may  cause  blood vessels  and can start  the  chain of  reaction resulting to migraine.  Preserved  food  or  ones that have aged are  carriers of  such compound.  The   more  aged   the food is,  the  worse  the  trigger   could  be.
  • Food additives  such as nitrates (found in pepperoni, salami, hotdogs , liverwurst and luncheon meat) and monosodium  glutamates ( commonly found in Chinese food)  have  also  been  known  trigger migraine.  If you  can’t completely avoid  such foods,  take  minimal portions  of it.
  • Allergies  and  allergic  reactions.
  • Intake of alcohol.  As any form of  alcohol (champagne, wine, beer, brandy, etc) is  fermented,  it can also  be a migraine trigger.
  • Caffeine itself ,  can be used in alleviating migraine attacks. The  body  gets too sensitized   with   that  with  sudden   drop or excess of  caffeine, the  blood  vessels  may expand  and cause  headache.

The first  two steps in  treating  migraine  are:

1. knowing  its symptoms and

2. finding your triggers.

Finding  your  triggers  is the tricky part.  Note  down what   you’ve eaten  and activities   you’ve done prior  to  an attack.  Knowing  these  will let you  know  what to  avoid  in the  future.

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