Things you should know about migraine headaches

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Maj. Alexander Menze
  • 97th Medical Group
 Migraines are headaches typically lateralized to a portion of the head, that involves mild to severe pain described as a throbbing, pounding discomfort associated with a feeling of pressure.

Approximately 80 percent of people will experience a migraine headache and nearly 10 percent will experience recurrent migraine headaches. Most sufferers find over-the-counter medications as a suitable solution while others are significantly impacted, having headaches reach a level of severity causing an individual to be unable to properly function during a migraine attack.

Sufferers often experience light and sound sensitivity during the headache. Serious cases of these headaches are preceded by an aura consisting of flashing lights in the visual field, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, slurred speech, physical dysfunction, sensory disturbances or change in level of functioning. The migraine can last from a few hours to a few days and people feel slightly disassociated during the recovery period.

Types of triggers for migraine headaches include Sulfites found in wine, lack of sleep, stress, arguing, vision changes, processed foods, menstruation, chocolate, caffeine, caffeine withdrawal, neck pain, dehydration, hunger, loud sounds and strong smells. Sufferers should understand what triggers their headaches and avoid them as much as possible. However, sometimes there is no apparent cause or trigger and it is simply a manifestation of underlying physiological processes.

Whenever a typical headache has changed significantly in duration, frequency or symptoms, there could be concern for more life-threatening illnesses. Blood vessel malformations, tumors, infections, autoimmune disorders, increased intracranial pressure and aneurysms are a few possibilities. It is important to get an appointment with your doctor to be sure that there are no concerns in addition to your headache disorder.

There are two types of treatments, abortive and preventive. Abortive therapies are used at the time of a headache and are useful for individuals who have fewer than 8 headaches per month. These treatments consist of over-the-counter pain relievers, caffeine and prescription medications such as sumatriptan. Preventive therapies are taken daily, whether a headache is present or not. The more commonly prescribed preventive agents are blood pressure medicines, anti-epileptics, tri-cyclic antidepressant medications and magnesium supplements.

Migraine headaches are a common condition. If your headaches are severe or if you have more than just a few headaches per month, it is recommended to seek advice from your doctor.