While a headache is ordinarily not a life-threatening condition, a migraine is not a headache that you can just ignore and hope that it will go away. It can incapacitate you enough that you may have to put your life on. So how do you know whether you have a migraine or just any old headache? Read on.
Have you ever had one of those days when your head aches so badly that you can't see straight? While a headache is ordinarily not a life-threatening condition, a migraine is not a headache that you can just ignore and hope that it will go away. It can incapacitate you enough that you may have to put your life on hold till the migraine demon decides to release you from his vise-like grip. There are dismal statistics that indicate that migraines are quite common. 25-30% of women and 15-20% of men occasionally get migraines. So how do you know whether you have a migraine or just any old headache?
Tension headaches vs. Migraines
Headaches generally fall into two basic categories: tension headaches and migraine headaches. A tension headache manifests itself as a band of pain around the head. The pain can spread to the neck and back. These headaches are caused by the contraction of neck and facial muscles and are aggravated by dental problems, bad posture and eye strain.
A migraine is an intense throbbing pain that often begins on one side of the head and then spreads throughout the face and head. In severe cases, a migraine can last for several days and is sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea or a blocked nose. A migraine can occur once a year or as often as several times a week. A person suffering from migraine may occasionally exhibit additional symptoms such as: irritability, blurred vision, visions of bright flashing lights, and signs of neurological deficits like temporary weakness, speech difficulty, dizziness and imbalance. However, these additional symptoms are not very common.
What are the causes of a migraine?
Doctors have been unable to pinpoint the exact cause for migraines. Some of them believe that migraines can be triggered by changes in hormonal levels. This would probably explain why migraines occur more frequently in women before, during and after menstruation. Birth control pills have also been known to increase the severity of migraines in women who tend to suffer from these headaches.
Some people link the incidence of their migraine attacks to particular drugs, food or additives. Based on the hypothesis that migraines are the result of vasodilation (expansion of the blood vessels), substances that act as agents of vasodilation could bring on a migraine attack. For instance, alcohol is a known vasodilator. Other substances that have been identified as causing migraines are: chocolate, excessive caffeine, citrus fruits, nitrates in cold cuts and hot dogs, and monosodium glutamate (MSG) used most often in Chinese food. Stress has been linked to the occurrence of migraines, but it is not a direct cause-effect relationship because some people get migraines more often on vacations and weekends. However, anxiety is definitely a factor for people who have migraine attacks more than twice a week.
Is there a cure?
Most people who have a migraine attack take medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen that give them a measure of relief. If these are not effective, the doctor can prescribe drugs that contain an ergot preparation that has the effect of constricting the blood vessels. Doctors may also prescribe preventive drugs for people that have frequent and severe migraine attacks. However, these drugs have their limitations and may not be effective all of the time.
A person who is prone to getting migraines can take a few steps to alleviate his pain. If you feel a migraine coming on, you should lie down in a quiet, darkened room and try to take a short nap. Try to avoid stressful situations and learn to relax. Maintain regular sleeping habits. Avoid foods and other substances in your diet if you know that they cause migraines.
While there a few measures you can take to pre-empt the onset of a migraine or to alleviate the pain of a migraine attack, they may not always be effective. Unfortunately, for people prone to migraines, often the only thing to do is to bear it.