Migraines: a painful reality

Wellness RN

Jenn CorbettDecember 21, 2011 

Dear Wellness RN,

I suffer from migraine headaches. What exactly are migraines, what are known triggers and what can I do to alleviate or lessen their frequency.

-- Thanks,

Migraine sufferer


Dear Migraine Sufferer,

A migraine headache is characterized by intense throbbing or pulsing in one area of the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine headaches can last from hours to days.

Research has not been able to pinpoint an exact cause for migraines but they do believe that genetics and the environment play a key role.

There are many different known triggers for migraine headaches and they span the gamut of causes. Known triggers are fluctuations in hormones, particularly estrogen. Foods such as red wine, aged cheese, processed meats, chocolate, aspartame, MSG and sudden discontinuation of caffeine.

Physical causes identified are intense physical exertion, sleep disturbances, stress and certain medications such as birth control pills and vasodilators (nitroglycerin).

The number one thing any migraine sufferer can do is identify their triggers. One way to do this is to journal daily for 30 days. Your journal should include what you are eating, what activities you did that day (including sex), and if you are female, where you are in your cycle. If you suffer a migraine take a close look at not only that day but the days surrounding it.

The next thing you need to do is meet with your physician. A quality physician will sit down with you to develop an action plan.

When talking about migraines it is important to understand what types of headache pain require immediate medical attention. Migraines are generally a chronic condition where sufferers are aware of what they are dealing with. Individuals who experience a migraine for the first time are often frightened and overwhelmed by the level of discomfort a migraine brings.

People frequently ask at what point they should seek medical attention for a "bad" headache. There are a few symptoms that should signal you. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience an abrupt, severe headache. A headache associated with fever, stiff neck, rash, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking. Headache which occurs after a head injury, especially if the headache worsens.

A chronic headache that worsens after coughing, exertion, straining or a sudden movement. New headache pain if over the age of 50. Remember that if you are not sure it is always better to play it safe.

For more information on migraine headaches visit migraine.org.

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