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.
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.