Migraines: Definition, Causes, and Treatments
Migraine is a neurological condition characterized by debilitating headaches, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, difficulty speaking, and numbness.
While this condition is not genetic, researchers found that having a family history of migraines increases the risk of developing migraines significantly.
In general, migraine is chronic and could get triggered by various factors. When you visit your doctor, he/she will take a thorough history and perform a physical examination to rule out any other diseases.
After the diagnosis has been established, your doctor will categorize migraines into those with aura and those without aura.
In this article, we will briefly discuss the causes and treatments of migraines.
What causes migraines?
Similar to other neurological conditions, researchers haven’t yet identified the exact cause of migraines. However, there are some risk factors and triggers linked to this condition.
For instance, one study found that an imbalance in brain neurotransmitters can precipitate migraines.
By far, serotonin is the most commonly affected neurotransmitter, which explains the effectiveness of antidepressant medications that increase serotonin levels in treating migraines.
Researchers also identified other factors that trigger migraines, which include:
- Bright lights
- Loud noises
- Extreme temperatures (e.g., heat, cold)
- Changes in pressure
- Hormonal fluctuation during different phases of the menstrual cycle (e.g., progesterone, estrogen)
- High-intensity physical activity
- Emotional stress
- Sleep disorders (e.g., insomnia)
- Taking certain medications (e.g., oral contraceptives)
- Alcohol use
As you can see, the list of potential triggers is long, which may hinder the diagnosis.
For this reason, your doctor may recommend keeping a journal, where you write down what you were doing, what food you ate, and if you took any medication before your migraine started.
The treatment of migraines
Unfortunately, there is no curative treatment for migraines. However, some treatments will help you control the severity and frequency of the symptoms.
In other words, you will experience migraine symptoms less often, and when you do, the severity won’t be as before.
Based on factors such as your age, the frequency and severity of your migraines, the type of your migraine, associated symptoms, and other concurrent medical condition, your treatment will vary.
In general, these are the treatment options for migraines:
- Self-care migraine remedies
- Lifestyle modifications (e.g., stress management, avoiding triggers)
- Taking over-the-counter drugs (e.g., acetaminophen, NSAIDs)
- Prescribing migraine medications that prevent future episodes
- Prescribing migraine medications that quickly temper down the intensity of the symptoms
- Taking anti-emetic and anti-nausea medications
- Hormone therapy for women with menstruation-related migraines
- Psychotherapy (i.e., counseling)
It is important to consult with your primary care physician before taking any new medication, as it can worsen your condition.