Around 39 million people in the United States suffer from migraines, making them the third most common illness in the world. More than just a bad headache, this recurring medical condition causes severe throbbing or pulsing pain in the head, often on one side. It may be accompanied by an array of other symptoms. Migraines can last for hours or days, completely derailing your plans and leaving you bedridden until the pain clears up. In this blog post, I want to explore potential causes and triggers, the four stages of a migraine, and available treatment options.
What Causes Migraines?
Although the causes of migraines are not fully understood, genetic and environmental factors play a role in an individual’s susceptibility. Both children and adults can suffer from them. Women face a much larger risk of experiencing migraines, being three times more vulnerable than men. Additionally, your risk of migraines can increase with the presence of other medical conditions, such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and/or epilepsy.
Those who suffer from migraines may have specific triggers, including:
- stress and anxiety
- sleep changes
- sudden changes in weather
- excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol
- hormonal changes in women, especially before or after menstrual cycles
The Four Stages of a Migraine
While not everyone goes through each stage with every migraine, there are typically four stages of migraines.
The prodrome phase is the precursor to a migraine, occurring a day or two before the migraine hits. Symptoms such as food cravings, constipation, mood changes, frequent yawning, and increased urination may occur.
25 to 30 percent of those who struggle with migraines will experience an aura, or a visual phenomena that results in seeing various shapes, flashes, or bright spots, with the headache. Feelings of “pins and needles” in limbs or muscle weakness may also occur. This phase can happen right before or during the migraine.
The third phase refers to the throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. The pain usually starts gradually and increases in intensity. It typically lasts 4 to 72 hours and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
After the migraine attack, you may feel exhausted and confused for the next 24 hours. Any sudden movement of the head may bring pain, and a dull, mild headache may persist.
Treatment Options for Migraines
Although there is no cure for migraines, there are treatments available to alleviate some of the pain. If you struggle with this medical condition, taking notes on your attacks and speaking to your primary care physician can help you determine a customized course of action. Specifically, writing down what leads to a migraine attack can help you identify specific triggers.
Medications and pain relievers are often used to alleviate symptoms. Lifestyle changes are also recommended to prevent migraines, including stress management and the avoidance of specific triggers. After creating a treatment plan based on your needs, symptoms, and triggers, migraines can become manageable, less painful, and even preventable.