What Is a Migraine?
Migraine, a neurological disease characterized by severe, throbbing headaches, affects 1 billion people worldwide. Its pain and accompanying symptoms can be debilitating and last as long as three days. More than 4 million adults have chronic daily migraines. Three factors increase a person’s risk:
- Age — Migraine is most common in people ages 25 to 55.
- Gender — Some 85 percent of adult chronic migraine sufferers are women.
- Heredity — About 90 percent of sufferers have a family history of the disease.
There are several well-known migraine triggers, including:
- A change in sleep pattern
- Certain foods, food additives and drinks — Aged cheeses and alcohol are two common dietary triggers.
- Hormonal changes in women — These changes can be related to menstruation, pregnancy or menopause.
- Medications — Oral contraceptives trigger migraines in some women.
- Physical exertion
- Strong sensory stimuli — Bright lights and sun glare can induce migraines, as can loud sounds.
- Weather changes
Some people experience a pre-migraine aura, a nervous system symptom, which can be characterized by:
- Difficulty speaking
- Jerking muscles
- Prickling or pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
- Seeing lights or shapes or hearing sounds that aren’t there
- Vision loss
- Weakness or numbness in the face or body
Migraine symptoms may include:
- Blurred vision — The migraine may cause objects to appear to lose visual sharpness.
- Lightheadedness or fainting — People with migraines often report feeling weak.
- Nausea — Migraines sometimes cause feelings of sickness, sometimes leading to vomiting.
- One-sided pain — Throbbing migraine headaches usually occur on one side.
- Sensitivity — Migraine sufferers often find that they’re sensitive to light, sound, touch or smell.
After the headache subsides, the symptoms may linger.
Most migraine sufferers never see a doctor for the condition, although there are preventive therapies. Treatment options include:
- Medication — Over-the-counter and prescription drugs can ease migraine symptoms, and some drugs can prevent their onset.
- Transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation — This therapy reduces the frequency of migraines through the use of an electronic device worn on the head.
- Learn to cope (LTC) therapy — Sometimes combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, LTC gradually desensitizes the patient to migraine triggers.
- Lifestyle changes — Regular exercise and a consistent daily routine may help reduce the frequency or intensity of migraines.
- Botox injections — This treatment is now approved for refractory migraine patients.
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