Migraine Headache Symptoms

Migraine is a chronic condition characterized by recurring attacks.  A migraine headache is caused by vasodilatation (enlargement of blood vessels) in the brain and chemicals released by the nerves surrounding those blood vessels.

There are four types of migraine headache, each with its own set of symptoms.

1.       Common Migraine – Do not have an aura. Usually less severe than a classic migraine.

2.       Classic Migraine – A classic migraine is associated with an aura. An aura may be a visual, auditory or sensory event that indicates an impending migraine.

3.       Atypical Migraine – Is difficult to describe as it follows no set pattern of symptoms.

4.       Complicated Migraine – A migraine that has some form of neurological dysfunction that depends on the part of the brain being affected.

Some symptoms of migraine are:

  • An aura that may involve visual disturbances (flashing lights, blind spots); sensory anomalies (tingling, pins and needles sensation, strange smells); or auditory (hearing )
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pale facial color
  • Cold hands and feet
  • All migraines typically have moderate to severe pain that is generally on one side of the head and around the temple area. This pain is increased by exercise or walking.
  • The pain moves from one side to the other, alternating sides from episode to episode.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound during an attack.

Pain that remains constant in the same place may not be from migraine pain.  This could indicate a more serious problem such as a brain tumor. This should be checked by you doctor.

Many times, even if there is not an aura prior to a migraine attack, there are warning signs indicating a coming migraine attack. 
These warning signs may occur hours or days prior to the attack:

  • Craving sweet or salty foods.
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Tiredness
  • Sometimes the hormonal fluctuation associated with a woman’s menstrual cycle can trigger a migraine.

The following criteria are used to diagnose migraine pain:

1.       Patient medical history that includes descriptions of migraine symptoms

2.       Family history that includes other family members with migraine pain.

3.       Neurological examination

4.       Blood tests, brain scanning, and/or spinal tap can be performed if indicated.

Treatment of migraine headache symptoms encompasses both medication and non-medication methods.

Non-medical methods are:

  • Ice
  • Biofeedback and relaxation
  • Dietary changes to avoid foods that trigger the migraine attacks. Some foods known to trigger migraines are sharp cheese (tyramine), wine (sulfites), nuts and pressed meats (nitrates)
  • Adequate sleep and exercise

Medication methods include:

  • Over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprophen, and naproxen. Some contain caffeine which helps reduce vasodilatation.
  • Triptans which reduce inflammation and constrict the blood vessels. This stops the headache.
  • Ergots constrict blood vessels to abort a migraine as well. However they are more prone to cause nausea and vomiting and not as safe for those with heart issues.
  • Use of anti-emetics for vomiting and some narcotics are utilized in treating migraines.

Migraines can be debilitating.  A combination of therapies may be needed to control them.  Each person‘s body is unique in its reaction to the pain and treatment of migraines.

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