Migraines 101: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
If you are one of the 1 billion people with migraines, you may know how uncomfortable a migraine attack can be. If you are not, how does it feel to be one of God’s favourites?!
Keep reading to find out the answer to that 😉
Here's what a migraine feels like:
Most people describe it as a pulsating, pounding, dull ache that spreads across their forehead. You can feel the pain on one side of your head or both sides. Sometimes you can even feel it shift.
What causes a migraine attack?
The direct causes of migraines have still not been identified. However, researchers believe that ‘abnormal’ brain activity affecting nerve signalling, blood vessels and chemicals are the root cause of migraines. Researchers have identified the following as significant triggers for migraines:
- Severe heat
- Bright lights
- Unusual smells
- Hormonal changes in women (oestrogen and progesterone fluctuations) during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
- Changes in sleep pattern
Hereditary history of migraines and being a female are some risk factors for developing migraine conditions.
How does a migraine attack arise?
Let’s learn about the process of how a migraine attack occurs and its respective symptoms.
- Prodrome Phase
This is the initial stage of a migraine. Usually occurring around 1-2 days before the migraine attack or any other headaches related to it, here are some prodrome symptoms:
- Food cravings
- Neck stiffness
- Attack Phase
It is during this phase that people have reported extremely uncomfortable sensations. The pain typically begins above your eyes and might spread over to one side of your head, your entire head or shift from side to side. Throbbing in the head may worsen if you exert yourself or move.
Other notable symptoms to look out for during the migraine attack phase include:
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound
- Feeling faint
The symptoms of a migraine attack could last between several hours to two days, depending on the patient.
- Postdrome Phase
The migraine attack is followed by the postdrome phase. You may feel sick for up to a day. You may also experience:
- Extreme tiredness
- Pain in the head that increases when you move too quickly or lean over
You must gain sufficient rest after experiencing a migraine attack to recover effectively.
Now that we have broken down each stage of a migraine, did you also know there are different types of migraines, each with varied symptoms? Keep scrolling to find out more
Different types of migraines that exist
There are two common types of migraines:
- Migraine with aura
- Migraine without aura
Along with the previously mentioned symptoms of a migraine, a person might experience either a migraine with an aura or a migraine without an aura.
Aura? What’s that?
It may sound like a pretty word but, it’s not a comfortable sensation. Aura is a condition that involves minor impairments to your vision, senses and speech for a period of time. Common signs involve blurry vision, coloured spots, neck stiffness, inability to hold your balance, difficulty speaking or forming words.
1. Migraine with aura (Brainstem Aura)
A person who experiences a migraine with brainstem aura would experience pain at the back of the head on both sides. They would face the following symptoms before the main migraine attack happens.
- An aura with visual problems
- Numbness of body, face and tongue
- Speech problems
- Problems with moving
- Difficulty talking (unclear speech)
- Vertigo (a spinning feeling)
- Ringing in the ears
- Eye problems in one eye (blind spots, flashes of light, temporary blindness, etc.)
2. Migraine without aura
Although, others may not experience an aura before their migraine attack or headaches. The following are some symptoms of a migraine without aura.
- Migraine occurs only on one side of the head
- Throbbing/pulsating pain in the head
- Pain gets more intense as you move (Eg: Walking)
- Becoming sensitive to light
- Becoming sensitive to sound
- Nausea with or without vomiting
Treatment and tips for managing migraines
But wait! There’s some good news. Although migraine is not something that can be cured, you can still manage and control migraines from occurring through the following methods. As a result, it may lead to fewer attacks.
- Adjustments to your lifestyle
You must ensure that you minimise or avoid any migraine triggers mentioned above. Along with this, managing your stress would also help you reduce the intensity of migraines.
- Keep a journal
Maintaining a journal to list the instances you face migraine symptoms and attacks will help identify your triggers. This will allow you to avoid events and circumstances that trigger these symptoms.
- Apply a cold compress on your forehead
This method slows down the nerve signals involved with migraine pain and generates a soothing, cool feeling that can help reduce the severe headache.
- OTC pain or migraine medications
These medications include Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), Paracetamol, etc. These would reduce the intensity of migraine headaches and attacks. It is advisable to consult a doctor and receive a prescription before taking these medications.
- Stay hydrated
Often when we are out in an environment with severe heat, we may forget to keep ourselves hydrated. Dehydration is a main trigger of migraine attacks. Therefore, ensuring an adequate intake of fluids will rule out the possibility of dizziness and headaches associated with dehydration.
Did any of the above symptoms and triggers sound familiar to you? Feel like you’ve experienced them? If you have, it is possible that the ‘really bad headache’ you experienced was actually a migraine attack. Consulting a doctor about these symptoms may help diagnosis and treatment of your ailment. .
Consult a GP via the oDoc app to receive expert medical advice on reducing the highly uncomfortable symptoms of migraines and improving your well-being.
- Everything You Want To Know About Migraine, Healthline (2021)
- Migraine with brainstem aura, Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (2022)