Public Health

The Migraine Minute: Everything You Need to Know

A woman with a headache holds her fingers to the bridge of her nose.

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According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are common but still vastly misunderstood, affecting over 39 million people in the United States alone. Since migraines can affect everyone differently with varying symptoms, it can be difficult to understand what’s going on or to find the right treatment for your specific needs. We’re breaking down the causes, symptoms, and treatments so you can get the care you need to feel whole again.

Migraine Causes and Common Triggers

A migraine is a neurological condition with symptoms ranging from extremely painful to completely debilitating. Doctors and researchers still don’t know what exactly causes migraines, but everything points to a combination of chemical imbalances in the brain and genetics. Some research suggests that certain brain cells set off a fluctuation in the hormones serotonin and estrogen – which might help explain why more women experience migraines than men. Medical or environmental factors that cause serotonin and estrogen levels to sharply increase or drop are called triggers.

Triggers are different for migraine sufferers, and the list continues to grow as researchers learn more about this debilitating condition.

Common triggers include:

  • Dehydration
  • Certain foods and beverages, including alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners
  • Emotional stress
  • Environmental factors, like bright or flashing lights or loud sounds
  • Fluctuating weather
  • Hormonal changes
  • Pungent odors
  • Lack of sleep
  • Using a computer

If you’re unsure what’s triggering your migraines, start a journal that details what you eat and drink, as well as any stressors you experience throughout the day. That way, when you have a migraine, you may be able to make a connection between a certain trigger and the onset of your symptoms. Plus, keeping a migraine journal helps your doctor better understand your condition.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraines and their symptoms are typically cyclical and broken down into four phases: prodrome, aura, headache attack and postdrome.

Let’s break down what you may experience:

Prodrome

Prodrome symptoms happen before the migraine and could include:

  • Changes in mood or trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger and thirst
  • Nausea or fatigue

Aura

You may experience an aura either before or during a migraine. This phase involves:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Changes to your vision, including seeing shapes, spots or bright light flashes
  • Potential difficulty speaking
  • Ringing in your ears and general sensitivity to sound and touch

Attack
During the headache attack phase, the pain intensifies on one or both sides of your head. Nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound are common symptoms of migraines at their peak. You can expect your migraine to last anywhere from a few hours up to three days.

Postdrome

Migraine sufferers do not get immediate relief after the migraine has passed. The postdrome phase of migraines may include symptoms like:

  • Achiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Vomiting

Use your migraine journal to document specifically what symptoms you experience and when. Doing so will help when seeking treatments.

Migraine Treatments

Treating migraines can be difficult because the cause is unknown, the triggers are different from person to person, and the symptoms, cycles, and intensity of pain vary. But the pain is real and can severely impact your quality of life.

Seeing a doctor is your first step to finding relief. Treatments for migraines include over-the-counter or prescribed medications as well as alternative methods. Over-the-counter medications are used for mild to moderate migraine symptoms, while prescription medications are used for more severe cases. Depending on the variety, prescription medicines can either prevent migraines from starting or stop them once symptoms have begun. Of course, both have side effects, so it’s important to talk to your doctor to find an option that will work best for your circumstance.

Alternative treatment methods include knowing and avoiding your triggers, implementing a vitamin and mineral regimen, acupuncture and even Botox®. Migraines are complicated to treat, and often, multiple treatments are used together to give you the best chance at living a pain-free life.

What To Do if You’re Experiencing Migraines

Our skilled team of expert neurologists at AdventHealth wants to help you find the source of your migraines and create a personalized treatment path to help you feel your best. Our entire care team works together to deliver high-quality care using the most advanced medical technology, right here in your community.

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