Most of us know at least one person who suffers from migraines. You’ve probably even heard someone use the terms “headache” and “migraine” interchangeably, but those with migraines know it is much more than a typical headache.
According to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF), migraines affect nearly 40 million men, women, and children nationwide. Despite this fact, people still inaccurately label a migraine as “just a headache.” Though migraine is the sixth most disabling illness in the world, migraine suffers are often overlooked.
Those who experience migraines know just how debilitating a migraine attack can be, oftentimes interfering with social activities, education, and work life.
During National Migraine & Headache Awareness Month, make an effort to learn more about migraines, recognize them as serious neurological diseases, and visit your healthcare provider if you believe you are experiencing migraines.
What are migraines?
Migraines are one of the more painful types of headache you can get. Migraines are neurological diseases, producing severe, throbbing head pain.
Migraines can affect anyone — men, women, and children. However, women generally experience migraines more than men.
“Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men are, and the majority of their migraines happen around the time of their menstrual cycle,” said Kaleah Hendren, family nurse practitioner with the Iredell Physician Network. Hendren will be the primary provider at Family Care Center of Mocksville beginning early August.
If you have migraines, you may notice they occur more frequently in the summer. According to Hendren, high heat and humidity can actually trigger migraines. Additionally, allergy symptoms in summer months can increase sinus congestion and cause headaches and migraines.
What are the symptoms of migraines?
Although migraines are a type of headache, symptoms are different from a typical headache.
According to Hendren, migraine symptoms may include:
- Throbbing, pulsating pain.
- Light or sound sensitivity.
- Pain on one side.
- Vision changes or blurred vision.
- Neck pain.
Those who have migraines may also experience warning signs right before a migraine, called an aura phase. Around 25-30% of people with migraines have an aura phase. For approximately half an hour before a migraine, you may experience flashing lights, visual disturbances, and zigzag lines.
What can trigger migraines?
“Stress is a trigger for over half of the people with migraines,” said Hendren. “Most brain healing occurs when you sleep; therefore, if you are not sleeping due to stress, it can trigger nerves in your brain to cause a migraine,” she added.
Other common triggers for migraines include:
- Storms, excessive heat, or changes in barometric pressure.
- High humidity and heat, leading to dehydration.
- Hormonal changes in women.
- Concussions or traumatic brain injuries.
- Different smells or food.
- Caffeine and alcohol.
In addition to caffeine and alcohol, some of the foods and substances that have been found to trigger migraines are chocolate, cheese, gluten, and foods that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) or histamine.
What should I do if I have a migraine, and how can I avoid them?
If you are experiencing migraine symptoms, make sure to find a calm environment with low light and try to get a good night’s sleep to help promote brain healing.
According to Hendren, it may also help to start a migraine diary. This way, you can pinpoint what you have done or ate that could be triggering your migraines.
“Learning to avoid your specific triggers and planning ahead is an important part of keeping your migraines under control. By catching them early, you can avoid the most severe symptoms,” said Hendren.
In summer months, make sure to increase your water intake and stay well hydrated. If light typically triggers your migraines, make sure to wear a hat and sunglasses when going outdoors.
When should I see a doctor about my migraines?
According to the AMF, fewer than 5% of people with migraines have been seen by a healthcare provider. Your doctor can give you an accurate diagnosis and help you to care for your migraines appropriately.
“You should see a doctor if you start having any worsening headaches. More than one migraine a week deserves attention and a new treatment plan,” said Hendren.
If you are experiencing severe migraine symptoms or confusion, memory changes, numbness, slurred speech, or paralysis, seek medical care immediately.
To schedule an appointment with Hendren at Family Care Center of Mocksville, call 336-753-0800.