Migraines…Not Your Average Headache
Deana M. Newman, M.A., C.C.P.
Reprinted courtesy of The New Citizens Press www.tncp.net
After returning home from a long day at work, you begin to feel a slight headache forming. Unfortunately, the headache progresses into something more than your average stress headache. You’re suddenly unable to focus, extra sensitive to light, nauseated and the headache feels as if you’ve just been involved in a head on collision with a truck. The only thing that seems to ease the pain slightly is lying on the floor of a room with complete darkness and silence. This scenario is an example of a typical migraine episode.
A migraine headache is characterized by severe pain most often felt on one-side of the head lasting for an hour up to a few days. The pain is commonly found near the temple, behind the eye or behind the ear. In addition to the pain nausea, vomiting, photophobia (light sensitivity), and phonophobia (noise sensitivity) are also classic migraine symptoms. Migraine episodes can occur any time of the day and typically occur more often in women than men.
The migraine onset process is so complex that researchers are unable to isolate a single cause. As reported by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, migraines may be triggered by one or more of the following: blood vessels constricting or expanding, allergies, hormonal changes during menstrual cycles, lack of food or sleep, weather changes, stress and anxiety, nervous system changes, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, family medical history, bright light, loud noise, and/or certain food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or sodium nitrate commonly used in processed meats as a preservative.
Though much research has been conducted to discover trends and patterns of migraine sufferers, a plethora of information is still not understood. It is estimated that 20% of women will suffer a migraine headache at least once in their lives especially those between 30-50 years of age.
According to the National Headache Foundation, individuals who have several headaches in one month that disrupt everyday life should seek a physician’s care. In an effort to assist with accurate diagnosis, it is highly recommended to document the following prior to a physician visit:
- Frequency of headaches
- Location of headaches (right side, left side, behind ear or eye)
- Length of time (number of hours or days)
- When it occurs (e.g. during menstrual cycle)
- Family history of migraines
Based on the information provided and a physical exam, a physician may prescribe additional screening measurements such as computerized tomography (CT scan), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a spinal tap (lumbar puncture) to rule out other possible conditions or causes for pain.
A number of migraine pain medications and preventative medications are currently available for treatment. However, self-care techniques, as reported by the Mayo Clinic, may also help relieve the pain. Practicing yoga or other muscle relaxing techniques along with adequate rest (between seven to nine hours of sleep) are great prevention strategies. On migraine onset, resting in a dark, quiet room and placing an ice pack wrapped in a cloth on the back of the neck while applying gentle pressure to the headache area are also helpful suggestions.
For more information, please contact your primary care physician and visit the National Headache Foundation (NHF) website at www.headaches.org or contact the NHF at 1-888-NHF-5552.
Deana M. Newman is a freelance health and wellness writer based in Lansing, Michigan. She is a Certified Cardiovascular Perfusionist who holds a Master of Arts in Health Communication from Michigan State University and is actively involved in educating minority populations on various health awareness topics.