Migraines and Headaches

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Migraines and Headaches


When there is pressure or pain in your head, it can be difficult to tell whether you are experiencing a typical headache or a migraine.

Headaches are unpleasant pains in your head that can cause pressure and aching. They can range from mild to severe pain and usually occur on both sides of your head. Some specific areas where headaches can occur include the forehead, temples, and back of the neck. A headache can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a week. The most common headache type is a tension headache. Triggers for this headache type include stress, muscle strain, or anxiety.

Though the exact cause of migraine is unknown; it is thought to be due to abnormal brain activity causing a temporary alteration in the nerve signals, chemicals and blood flow in the brain. A number of factors could cause this abnormal brain activity, and these factors are often referred to as Triggers.


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Triggers


In some cases, people who suffer from migraines can clearly identify triggers that cause the headaches. Potential migraine triggers include:

  • Allergies
  • Bright lights, loud noises, flickering lights, smoky rooms, temperature changes, strong smells and certain odors or perfumes.
  • Physical or emotional stress, tension, anxiety, depression, excitement
  • Physical triggers such as tiredness, jet lag, exercise
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Smoking or exposure to smoke
  • Skipping meals or fasting causing low blood sugar
  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol
  • Hormonal triggers such as menstrual cycle fluctuations, birth control pills and menopause
  • Foods containing tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and some beans), monosodium glutamate (MSG), or nitrates
  • Other foods such as chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, banana, citrus, onions, dairy products and fermented or pickled foods
  • Medication such as sleeping tablets, the contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy.

Triggers do not always cause migraines and avoiding triggers does not always prevent them.

Many people have warning signs that a migraine is approaching. These are called Auras and typically appear just before or during the head pain.


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Aura’s


When migraines with aura affect vision, the patient may see things that are not there, such as a strings of objects, not see parts of the object in front of them, or even feel as if part of their field of vision appears, disappears and then comes back again.

It is common for patients to describe the visual disturbance as similar to the sensation one has after being photographed with a very bright camera flash in a darker room.

For many migraine sufferers, the auras act as a warning, telling them that the headache is soon to come. If any migraine sufferer experiences unusual or worrying features that they do not normally have, then they should seek medical help rather than blaming the migraine.


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Symptoms


Although not all migraines are the same, typical symptoms include:

  • Moderate to severe pain, usually confined to one side of the head during an attack, but can occur on either side of the head
  • The pain is usually a severe, throbbing, pulsing pain
  • Increasing pain during physical activity
  • Inability to perform regular activities due to pain
  • Feeling sick and physically being sick
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound, relieved by lying quietly in a darkened room
  • Some people experience other symptoms such as sweating, temperature changes, tummy ache and diarrhea.

Symptoms such as unusual severe headache, visual disturbance, loss of sensation or power, difficulties with speech are all important features, which, if unusual for the sufferer, should not be ignored.