Migraine headaches

What are migraines?

It is a kind of headache due to a chronic disturbance of the nervous system. It is a headache that is usually incapacitating and comes with other annoying symptoms, such as nausea or sensitivity to light.

It is estimated that in Spain more than 3.5 million people suffer from migraine. It usually appears between 10 and 30 years of age.

We can differentiate between two types of migraine:

  • Migraines without aura: these are the most common. It resembles a headache of high intensity, with some added symptom, such as sensitivity to sound.
  • Migraines with aura: this is the most complicated, because there are neurological symptoms or visual disturbances before the headache.

Prognosis of migraines

Migraine headaches have a different duration depending on the patient and are therefore treated differently. Some migraines do not require any treatment, but there are others that require medication or even hospitalization of the patient.

It is important to visit a specialist since this ailment is a risk factor linked to cerebrovascular accidents. This risk is increased in people who take contraceptive pills or who do not have a balanced diet (which can cause high cholesterol or hypertension). The risk is also higher in smokers, especially with women who have migraines with aura.

Symptoms of migraines

There is no definitive test to diagnose a migraine, but there are several symptoms that allow its identification. These symptoms are classified according to the type of migraine, which can be with aura or without aura.

Migraine with aura is accompanied by nervous system (neurological) symptoms, which warn us of a possible migraine. These symptoms occur 10 to 20 minutes before the headache occurs. In many cases, they affect vision as follows:

  • A temporary point of blindness.
  • Eye pain
  • Alteration in vision, with flashing lights or lines.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Only being able to see the closest objects (tunnel vision).

These symptoms may be accompanied by, among others:

  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Yawning
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

Headaches usually get worse as the minutes or hours pass. They are pains that are felt, throbbing in the head. In some cases, pain may occur on only one side of the head, behind the eye or in the neck and may last up to 48 hours.

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Along with headaches, there may be other symptoms: chills, increased urination, tiredness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, sensitivity to light or sound, etc.

What are the causes of migraines?

Although it is not fully clarified, migraines originate due to abnormal activity in the brain. This activity can occur due to many factors:

  • Lack of caffeine
  • Skipping a meal
  • Smoking or tobacco smoke
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Environmental factors
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Enduring loud noises or bright lights
  • Changes in menstrual cycle hormone levels
  • Lack of sleep or oversleeping
  • Some foods: chocolate, fruits (avocado, banana…), onions, processed foods, dairy products, meats with nitrates, etc.

It should be noted that migraines can be hereditary and that they occur more often in women than in men.

Enduring loud noises or bright lights can cause migraines.

Can migraines be prevented?

The most important thing to prevent migraines is to know the reasons that trigger them together with a specialist. Once we have identified these triggers, we should avoid them and, in addition, other advice can be followed:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Reduce the level of caffeine little by little.
  • Control stress and learn to manage it.

Treatments for migraines

Treatments can help curb symptoms and prevent new migraine attacks. These will vary according to the severity of the headaches, frequency, disability, etc.

Although there is no specific cure, there are several medications to treat the ailment, among which we find some that are used for other affections but that can help to appease some symptoms. They can be divided into two main groups:

  • Analgesic: they are used to combat the ailments produced during migraine attacks, to calm the symptoms.
  • Preventive medications: these are taken on a regular basis, to try to reduce the severity or frequency.

There are also several lifestyle changes to consider that can help patients suffer less migraines or avoid them altogether:

  • Sleep the necessary hours and have fixed bedtimes.
  • Improve nutrition: avoid foods that produce the pathology and do not skip any meal.
  • Control stress or anxiety.
  • In case of overweight, lose weight.

Which specialists treat them?

Migraines are treated by a specialist in neurology, acupuncture or pain unit.