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Migraines Explained


A migraine is often a strong headache that can last for hours or days. The pain usually begins in the forehead, on one side of the head, or around the eyes, and it gets worse over time. Any movement, bright light, or loud noise can make it more painful. Feeling nauseous and vomiting are common.

Migraines can occur once or twice a year, or as often as daily. Women are more likely to experience migraines than men. There are various types of migraine headaches. The most frequent ones are classic migraines and common migraines.

Classic migraines,
also known as complicated migraines, begin with a warning sign called an aura. These migraines, sometimes referred to as “migraines with aura,” involve visual changes like flashing lights, colors, lines, or shadows. You might temporarily lose part of your vision, such as peripheral vision.

You may also experience a tingling or burning sensation or muscle weakness on one side of your body. Communication difficulties and feelings of depression, irritability, and restlessness are also possible.

Auras typically last about 15 to 30 minutes and can occur before, after, or during the headache. The headache itself might affect one or both sides of the head.

Common migraines,
on the other hand, do not begin with an aura and are therefore called “migraines without aura.” These migraines may start more slowly, last longer, and disrupt daily activities more. The pain is often confined to one side of the head. Most migraine sufferers experience common migraines without an aura.
Migraines without head pain,
or “silent migraines,” can cause typical migraine symptoms without the usual pain around the eyes and temples. These may include an aura phase and sensitivity to light and sound.
Hemiplegic migraines
cause temporary weakness on one side of the body, resembling a stroke. This weakness, affecting areas like the face, arm, or leg, usually resolves within 24 hours but can last up to several days. The headache may occur before or after the weakness. This type of migraine is rare.
Retinal migraines,
or ocular migraines, involve visual disturbances or blindness in one eye unrelated to an aura. These symptoms are brief and can occur before or after the headache. If you experience this, contact your doctor.
Ice Pick headaches
are not migraines but cause sharp, stabbing pains around the eyes and temples. These pains may recur in the same spot or shift to different areas and can happen without warning. Migraine sufferers are more likely to also experience ice pick headaches.
Cluster headaches
are rare and occur in patterns or clusters, with a headache striking at the same time daily for weeks or months. These intense headaches typically affect one side of the head and can cause drooping eyelids and nasal congestion.

What does a migraine feel like?

The pain from a migraine can be overwhelming and can hinder your daily activities. Migraines vary from person to person, but here are some common symptoms. You might experience a “premonition” a few hours to a day before the headache starts. These premonitions are signals that a migraine is coming, and can include feelings of high energy, exhaustion, cravings for specific foods, increased thirst, and mood changes.

Symptoms of Migraines –
Possible signs of migraines include:  
  • 1. Intense pulsating or dull aching pain on one side of the head or both sides
  • 2. Pain that worsens with movement or physical activity
  • 3. Nausea and vomiting
  • 4. Changes in vision, like blurred vision or blind spots
  • 5. Sensitivity to light, noise, or smells
  • 6. Fatigue and confusion
  • 7. Congestion in the nasal passages
  • 8. Feeling chilly or sweaty
  • 9. Stiff or tender neck
  • 10. Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • 11. Scalp tenderness

What causes migraines?

The exact causes of migraines are still not fully understood by researchers. It is believed that changes in serotonin levels in the body may be partly responsible. Serotonin has multiple roles and affects blood vessels, causing them to shrink when levels are high and swell when levels drop. This swelling can trigger pain and other symptoms. Additionally, there is research into a spreading electrical activity pattern in the brain as a potential cause. Some studies suggest a genetic link to migraines, indicating they may be hereditary. Certain genes associated with migraines have been identified, but it’s not clear why they impact some people more than others.

What are some risk factors and triggers for migraines?

Certain factors can increase the likelihood of having migraines, while various triggers can provoke a migraine attack.

Common risk factors for migraines include:

  • Genetics: A family history of migraines makes you much more likely to experience them if one or both of your parents suffer from migraines.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to have migraines than men.
  • Age: Migraines often begin during adolescence, but they can start at any age, typically before age 40.

Common triggers for migraines include:

  • Diet: Specific foods and beverages (see list below) can trigger migraines. Dehydration, dieting, or skipping meals can also be triggers.
  • Hormonal changes: Women may experience migraines related to their menstrual cycles, menopause, or the use of hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy.
  • Stress: Both physical and emotional stress, such as feeling overwhelmed, over-exercising, or not getting enough sleep, can trigger migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli: Loud noises, bright or flashing lights, and strong odours can trigger migraines.
  • Medications: Some medicines can trigger migraines. If you suspect your medication is a trigger, consult your doctor about possible alternatives.
Illnesses:  Like colds or the flu can provoke migraines, particularly in children.

Foods that may trigger migraines:

  • 1. Processed Meats
  • 2. Aged cheese
  • 3. Alcoholic beverages (especially red wine)
  • 4. Aspartame
  • 5. Avocados
  • 6. Various beans (pole, broad, lima, Italian, navy, pinto, garbanzo)
  • 7. Brewer’s yeast (found in fresh yeast coffee cake, donuts, sourdough bread)
  • 8. Excessive caffeine
  • 9. Canned soups 
  • 10. Chocolate & cocoa
  • 11. Dairy products (like buttermilk & sour cream)
  • 12. Figs
  • 13. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • 13. Nuts and peanut butter
  • 14. Onions (except in small amounts for flavoring)
  • 15. Papaya
  • 16. Passion fruits
  • 17. Pickled, preserved, or marinated foods (like olives, pickles, and some snacks)
  • 18. Raisins
  • 19. Red plums
  • 20. Soy sauce

How do doctors diagnose migraines?

Doctors diagnose migraines by evaluating the symptoms you describe and conducting a physical examination. To rule out other causes of the headaches, your doctor may order blood tests or imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan of the brain. You may also be asked to maintain a migraine diary, which can help your doctor identify possible triggers and patterns in your migraines.

Can migraines be prevented or avoided?

If you have migraines more than twice a month or if they severely affect your life, preventive medications may help. These medications are taken daily, even when you do not have a headache. There are also non-drug treatments to reduce migraine pain and frequency. One is an FDA-approved electrical stimulation device, a headband you wear for 20 minutes a day to stimulate a nerve linked to migraines. Counselling is another non-drug option that can help you manage migraines better, especially when combined with preventive medications.

Additional ways to prevent migraines:
  • 1. Eat regular meals and avoid skipping them.
  • 2. Stick to a regular sleep routine.
  • 3. Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercises can alleviate tension and help with weight management, as obesity can trigger migraines.
  • 4. Keep a migraine diary to identify your triggers and the most effective treatments.

Treating Migraines

Two types of medications are used for migraine treatment: abortive and preventive. Abortive medications aim to stop the migraine from becoming severe and to relieve the pain quickly. You should use these medications as soon as you feel a migraine coming on. Preventive (or prophylactic) medications are taken daily to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Consult your doctor to determine which type of medication is best for you. Some individuals benefit from using both types. Be aware that frequent use of nonprescription and prescription medications can lead to other health issues.

Other Ways to Manage Migraine Pain

To help alleviate migraine pain, you can try:
  • 1. Lying down in a dark, quiet room.
  • 2. Applying a cold compress or cloth to your forehead or the back of your neck.
  • 3. Massaging your scalp with firm pressure.
  • 4. Applying pressure to your temples.
  • 5. Consuming some caffeine.

At Jain Multispeciality Hospital, we specialise in treating migraines with the help of our top neurologists. Using the latest treatments and a personalised approach, we aim to relieve your pain and improve your quality of life. Our caring and experienced team is dedicated to providing you with the best care possible. Trust Jain Multispeciality Hospital to help you find relief from migraines and get back to living your life fully.