Manage your migraines
Published 8:00 am Tuesday, July 12, 2022
You know how debilitating these headaches can be if you’re prone to migraines. You miss work and family events—your head throbs. You’re hypersensitive to sound and light, and you may experience nausea or worse. The pain can radiate far beyond your head, causing changes in vision, speech, and sensations down through your arms, and can last for hours or days. In the most severe cases, symptoms of migraines can mimic other serious conditions.
Up to 12% of Americans experience migraines, and women are three times more likely than men to be affected. Genetics, gender, stress level, and smoking are known risk factors. A migraine can come out of nowhere with little warning or accompanied by signs known as prodrome and aura.
A prodrome often appears a day or two before migraine, with subtle, seemingly unrelated changes. Those signs can include constipation, food cravings, neck stiffness, fluid retention, and increased urination.
An aura is a reversible sensory disturbance that marks the beginning of a migraine. The aura can build over minutes and can last up to an hour. The symptoms of an aura can be an odd taste, vision issues, tingling of one side of your face, arm, or leg, or difficulty speaking. One in four people suffering from migraines will have some degree of auras.
The final stage of a migraine is the post-drome. Symptoms that you’ll likely feel are:
- that of feeling drained for up to a day
- an inability to concentrate
- a momentary head pain with sudden head movement
- a sensitivity to light
- a stiff neck
Need to See a Doctor?
Many sufferers of migraines go undiagnosed and untreated. If you’re one of these people, begin to keep a journal of your attacks, including prodromes, auras, the duration, and how you treated the attack. Then see your doctor to discuss your headaches. And if you have regular headaches and the pattern suddenly changes, it’s time to see your doctor.
Go straight to the emergency department if:
- you have a headache after a head injury
- your headache is very abrupt and severe
- if you have a fever, stiff neck, seizures, double vision, confusion, numbness, or weakness in any part of the body
- if a chronic headache worsens after straining or quick movements
- you experience a new onset of headaches later in life
We cannot cure migraines, but we can manage them with medication. There are two types of medicine: abortive and preventative.
Abortive medications are most effective when used at the first sign of a migraine. If you take them at the onset of an aura or when the pain is still mild, you can stop the headache from progressing. Abortive meds can stop or decrease symptoms, including pain, nausea, light sensitivity, etc.
Preventive medications are effective for headaches that occur four or times a month. Preventive medications taken daily will reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches.
When recovering from a migraine, it’s essential to drink plenty of water, rest, and avoid the overstimulation of looking at the screen on your phone or computer.
Migraines are different for each sufferer. And likewise, treatments for each person is also unique. Avoiding your migraine triggers, managing symptoms, and practicing prophylactic methods are the best prevention. Work with your healthcare provider to take back control of your life.
If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or visit StLukesNC.org to learn about top-rated St. Luke’s Hospital and our new world-class services.