Migraines are a pain, but they’re also much more than that. What causes migraines, and how are they different from headaches? Here’s everything you need to know about migraines and what causes them.
Migraine vs regular headache: more than just head pain
There is a common misconception that a migraine is one of many types of headaches, but Migraine is actually a neurological condition in which a headache is just one of the symptoms.
Unlike headaches, which are typically associated with just one symptom (head pain), migraines often feature head pain with one or more additional symptoms. For patients who suffer from migraines, the only consistent symptom is head pain. Although, the severity of pain varies episode-to-episode.
Some other common symptoms someone may experience during a migraine are:
• Sensitivity to lights and sound
• Vision change
To help differentiate between a classic headache vs migraine, here are some key features of headaches:
• Mild to moderate pain, often tolerable.
• Pain isolated to just the head.
• Pressure-like feeling.
• Can last minutes to a few hours.
And these are some symptoms of migraines:
• Moderate to severe pain, sometimes to a debilitating degree
• Pain can be felt on one side of the head, both sides, or in the face. Other areas of the body can also be affected by the nature of the symptoms
• Throbbing and/or stabbing feeling in the affected area
• Symptoms that last hours to days
Why did I develop migraines?
Research is still ongoing to determine the exact cause of why patients suffer from migraines. However, several contributing factors have been identified:
- Genetics - studies have shown that patients who suffer from migraines usually have a first degree relative in their family who also suffer from migraines.
- Gender - Women are almost 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with migraines due to fluctuations in hormone levels.
- Environmental changes - Changes in the weather and barometric pressure are known to contribute to chemical imbalances in the brain which can induce migraines.
- Serotonin - Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that allows nerve cells in the brain to communicate with the rest of the body. Low levels of Serotonin can cause blood vessels to dilate which can cause migraine symptoms to appear.
What is causing my migraine episode?
Even though we may not know exactly why patients develop migraines, it is possible to determine what may prompt the onset of a migraine. Migraines manifest differently from person to person. In fact, a person may even suffer from a different type of migraine each time. Few commonalities exist for migraine sufferers though, and those appear to be triggers. A few of the most frequently reported triggers migraine patients report are:
- Lack of sleep - maintaining good sleep hygiene is important for migraine sufferers. Researchers believe that a lack of sleep influences the brain’s neurotransmitters and can contribute to migraine episodes.
- Overstimulation - Some who suffer from migraines may have certain sensory sensitivities. Some patients who are sensitive to smells, bright lights, and even noises can be triggered by things that overstimulate those senses.
- Food and drink - Certain foods, drinks, and artificial additives are shown to be a migraine trigger. Tyramine and MSG, and Aspartame are just three of many things that have been discovered to contribute to an episode.
Two of the most common triggers are also the trickiest to deal with. While they can trigger a migraine, they can also help alleviate the pain and symptoms of a migraine:
- Too much or too little caffeine - Caffeine can help or hurt a person who suffers from migraines. Daily caffeine consumers often experience a migraine when they do not have any caffeine or enough caffeine during the day. In contrast, patients who consume large amounts of caffeine during the day are susceptible to dehydration, also said to be a trigger for migraines, due to its diuretic features. Maintaining hydration and a healthy balance of caffeine intake is important for those who suffer from migraines.
- Medication overuse - Overuse of abortive medications for head pain such as NSAIDs and Triptans can prolong and/or enhance both the symptoms and intensity of a migraine. Using more than the prescribed or recommended amount of any medication can cause a patient to feel “trapped” in a cycle of migraine pain and symptoms for several days. For patients in a migraine cycle due to medication overuse, traditional abortive therapies no longer provide symptom relief. When this occurs patients require a “cycle-breaker” which often involves a course of steroids or in the worst case, a trip to the ER for IV fluids and medications.
How can I avoid migraines?
Migraines often develop in response to some sort of stimuli, so it is important to keep track of not just the days you experience a migraine, but the details of your day prior to developing symptoms as well. Important things to consider when tracking migraine days are the weather, any physical changes you are experiencing at the time, sleep habits, amount of caffeine consumed, what foods were eaten, and the activities completed throughout the day.
By keeping detailed track of headache days and lifestyle habits on those days you can potentially identify your triggers. Knowing what triggers a migraine will help you make any necessary adjustments to your lifestyle to help eliminate or reduce exposure to those things that cause you to experience migraines.
If you continue to suffer from migraines or headaches of any kind, and you’re ready for professional help, get in touch with us. Neurokin experts are ready to help determine the cause of your migraines or headaches and get the relief you need today.