A migraine is more than a bad headache. It is an attack that is usually made up of many symptoms. Severe migraines knock sufferers completely off their feet. Researchers think that a migraine begins with electrical and chemical disturbances in the brain. These lead to inflammation of blood vessels in the head, resulting in pain.

What are the symptoms of a migraine?

Migraine headaches usually begin as a dull ache, often in only one side of the head. The pain gets worse and turns into pounding or throbbing. Regular pain medications do little good, and movement makes the pain worse. The headache often lasts for hours or days.

Often, some of these symptoms are also present: visual disturbances (blurring, sparkles, wavy lines of color or light, temporary loss of vision — often occurring just before an attack), nausea or vomiting (and sometimes diarrhea), numbness or tingling in the face or hand, weakness and chills, extreme sensitivity to light, noise, or smells.

What causes migraines?

This is not clear. Migraines run in families and affect more women than men. Many people find that certain things trigger a migraine:

  • Some items in the diet, such as chocolate, aged cheese, nuts, MSG, caffeine, red wine, artificial sweeteners
  • Strong odors (perfumes, exhaust fumes, paint, smoke)
  • Changes in the barometric pressure
  • Fatigue, stress, and sleep disturbances
  • Hormonal fluctuations (use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, menstruation, menopause)
  • Nitroglycerin, anti-inflammatories, and other drugs

What can I do for migraines?

Start by keeping a record of the date and time attacks begin and end, accompanying symptoms, possible triggering factors (including what you ate), and any medications you tried and their effects. You and your doctor may see a pattern and a trigger that you can avoid.

Your doctor may prescribe a drug to relieve pain (an ergotamine preparation or a strong analgesic) or a drug to narrow the blood vessels in the head when an attack is starting. You can often ease the pain by lying quietly in a dark room with cold packs around your head. Some people who have frequent and severe migraines benefit from taking preventive medication every day. Together, you and your doctor can choose the best treatment for your migraines.

Information provided by “Postgraduate Medicine”