The Basic Facts Behind Migraines

September 12 to16 is Headache and Migraine Week. We look at the common myths and truths, treatments and symptoms surrounding migraines.

A friend of mine went AWOL on the weekend for an entire two days. It was completely out of character, and I was gobsmacked to hear that she had been bedridden for much of that 48 hours with a migraine. Not a hangover or a stomach bug. A bonafide migraine.

"Isn't that just a bad headache?" I asked her. But when she went into detail about the near-paralysing pain, I knew I had my facts completely wrong.

With a trip to the doctor behind her and a plan in place should her migraine return, it got me thinking about the misconceptions surrounding this terrible but common affliction.

With this week marking Headache and Migraine Week, I thought it high time I got my head around migraines once and for all!

What are Migraines?

Migraines are a form of a headache that is episodic and severe, explains Dr Jillian Forer. A garden variety headache is bad enough, but if its preceeded by nausea and sound sensitivity, that's when you know it may be something more sinister, she explains. “Migraines are generally genetic and caused by an intrinsic neurological instability.” 

Should You Seek Medical Attention Immediately? 

It can't hurt to see the doctor if your pain is severe, experts advise.  From there it's usually a pretty rapid diagnosis as migraines generally follow a four-phase pattern that is easy for health professionals to detect a mile away. "If you develop a headache that is more severe and unusual you should get medical attention,” Dr Jill advises. 

What Causes Migraines?

  • Migraines can be genetic, but other causes are more varied and complex. They can range from neurological or lifestyle triggers. Heck, the humble aged cheese can even press 'GO' on a migraine! Other dietary triggers for sufferers include alcohol, chocolate, MSG, caffeine, and nuts. Yep! Pretty much all the fun stuff!
  • Women can suffer more than men, and this comes down to hormonal triggers including menses, ovulation, and hormone replacement. Sensory stimuli also play a part, most commonly strong and flickering light.
  • When it comes to stress-related migraine, be wary during times of intense activity, crisis, loss or change and moving. And if you're a frequent flyer, you can't run away from migraines either. If anything, travel can exacerbate them more with altitude, time-zone changes and weather all acting as triggers also. 

What To Do If You Get A Migraine:

  1. “Start treatment as soon as possible to abort an attack so have a definite plan,” Dr Jill urges. “Share your plan with somebody close so you can feel supported.”
  2. Try to avoid all triggers and find a darkened space as soon as you feel a migraine coming on.
  3. Menstrual migraines tend to last longer than other forms, Dr Jill points out. So be prepared for this.
  4. “Try to avoid overusing medications. This can lead to medication over-use headache, also known as ‘rebound headache.’”
  5. “There are many treatments including several drugs that are used to abort an attack or prevent the migraine,” says Dr Jill. These include pain relievers, anti-nausea medication, Ergots and Cortisone.  “Preventers include the use of some heart medications and antidepressants and anti-seizure medications,” she continues. “Sometimes Botox injections are given into head and neck by a neurologist as one successful method and there are also non-drug therapies like vitamins – folic acid in particular – and natural compounds that may assist.”

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