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Migraines are a medical condition that are often very little understood by people who don’t suffer from them. For many people, the assumption is that a migraine is just like a headache, but worse. While there is a grain of truth in that belief, it’s far from the whole story. Below, we’ll go into some of the less well-known facts about a condition which may affect as many as one in four households worldwide.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is a period of illness often marked by a severe headache, usually confined to one side of the head. The headache may not be present at all; it may be accompanied or replaced by nausea, extreme tiredness, and light sensitivity.
What causes migraines?
The exact pathway that leads to a migraine is still only partially understood; it’s believed to widen blood vessels that lead to the brain. It is known that they can be triggered by: certain foods; the female menstrual cycle; extreme tiredness; or stress. However, what triggers the condition and what causes it are two different things.
Why do I get migraines?
Simply put, some people are prone to migraine and others are not. It is difficult to say why this is the case. It may be hereditary. However, if you get migraines now, you will probably keep getting them – at this moment, there is no cure, although symptoms can be relieved.
What can you do about migraines?
You may have seen, on TV or in movies, characters reacting to migraines by lying in a darkened room until they pass. This is a good idea, as it removes many of the aggravating factors such as sound, light and movement. On occasion, you might not have the time or the opportunity to do this. If this is the case, prescription sunglasses can help with photosensitivity.
Do painkillers work against migraines?
Standard over-the-counter painkillers will, usually, do at least something to dampen the pain of a migraine, but they will only manage the symptoms and do little to affect the cause. If you experience migraines on a regular basis, it is worth speaking to your doctor and potentially getting a prescription for triptans, a kind of painkiller that reverses the widening of the blood vessels. These are more powerful painkillers and have more pronounced side effects, but those are less unpleasant than having a migraine.
How can I avoid migraines?
This is difficult; you need to avoid triggers, but because there can be multiple triggers, it may not be immediately obvious what is causing the attacks. If you can recognize signs of prodrome (the period of a migraine before the headache arrives), then it may be possible to take medication to delay or prevent the headache. It is worth keeping a diary and looking for patterns to see when you are most likely to have a migraine.
Is there anything more I should know?
Migraines come with an increased risk of some mental health issues such as depression and panic disorders; people who experience migraine are also more likely to experience a transient ischemic attack (stroke) than those who do not, but the risk is still very small and can be mitigated with healthy lifestyle choices.