About Migraines

Overview

Migraines are a type of headache. The Mayo Clinic states that migraines are characterized by intense pain lasting for several hours or even days. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), migraines occur more often in women than men, with the prevalence being 25 percent for females and 8 percent for males. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of children and adolescents are affected with migraines.

Symptoms

The Mayo Clinic states that symptoms of migraine headaches typically start in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. Symptoms of migraines include an intense throbbing or pulsating pain usually on one side of the head, pain that increases with activity or interferes with daily activities, nausea, vomiting and light and sound sensitivity. According to the Mayo Clinic, the intensity and rate of occurrence of migraines varies from person to person. Some migraine sufferers experience auras that are considered sensory warnings and are characterized by tingling in the arms and legs and vision changes such as seeing flashes of light or blind spots. The Mayo Clinic states that premonitions or prodrome sensations are common and include feelings of increased energy, craving for sweets, thirst, drowsiness, irritability or sleepiness.

Causes

According to JAMA, the actual cause of migraine headaches is unknown but research indicates swollen blood vessels in the brain press on nerves, causing the pain. JAMA states that many migraine sufferers are able to identify the aggravating factor (trigger). Some common triggers include stress, climate changes, changes in caffeine intake, changes in sleeping habits, hormonal changes, skipped meals and certain types of food, especially those containing nitrates, tyramine, monosodium glutamate or aspartame.

Risk Factors

The Mayo Clinic states that many factors can increase the risk of experiencing migraine headaches. These risk factors include having a family history of migraines, being female, being under the age of 40 and hormonal changes.

Complications

According to JAMA, migraine headaches are painful but not life-threatening. The Mayo Clinic states that many complications from migraines are caused by the attempts made to control the pain. Medications used for the treatment of migraine pain can cause abdominal discomfort, rebound headaches and a potentially life-threatening problem called serotonin syndrome. This syndrome occurs when patients mix triptan migraine medications such as Imitrex with certain antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

Diagnosis

According to the Mayo Clinic, patients with typical symptoms of migraines or a family history of migraines may be diagnosed by physical exam. Unusual or sudden development of migraine symptoms may prompt the health care provider to perform tests such as CT scans, MRIs and spinal taps.

Treatment

The Mayo Clinic attests there is no cure for migraine headaches. JAMA states there are specific medication regimens used to treat migraine headaches. Initially patients will be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such ibuprofen. Migraines that are not relieved by over-the-counter treatments will be prescribed triptan medications, which are specifically for migraine pain. Patients who do not get relief from these medications may be prescribed daily treatments such as anti-hypertensives, anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications.

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