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Migraines are a complex health issue that manifests as a neurological disease. A migraine attack is characterized by headaches that bear little resemblance to regular headaches. It’s estimated that 37% of headaches in the United States are migraine-related. The World Health Organization approximates the percentage of women suffering from migraines at 18%, while this number falls to 7% for men.
What Is a Migraine?
Migraines are considered to be primary headaches due to the pain not being symptomatic of another condition, such as an injury to the head or a brain tumor. Pain can be localized on the right or left side of the head or both at once. Migraines can render a person unable to work or care for their families if they are experiencing high or even moderate levels of pain. Sensitivity to light and sounds may lead sufferers to see refuge in dark, quiet spaces.
Duration of Migraines
Most will experience a migraine for at least four hours, but for some, the headache can drag on for days. The effects of a migraine often last even longer than this, though; there is typically a period of premonitory symptoms, and there may also be a postdromal phase, a sort of “migraine hangover” that can last for days after the migraine has subsided.
Each person is sensitive to different triggers, which in turn bring about different symptoms. Physical or psychological stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, and food allergies have all been blamed for the onset of migraines, along with alcohol, caffeine, hormones, and even the weather. Exact causes have proven hard to pinpoint, but brain scans have shown that migraines may have a correlation with the presence of hyperactivity in some parts of the brain. Also, a person with a genetic predisposition to experience migraines usually shows biochemical differences compared to non-sufferers.
Migraines can run in families, being passed down from generation to generation. One type of migraine that has been proven to be genetic is the familial hemiplegic migraine (FHM). People with FHMs have a deficiency in a specific protein.
Diagnosis of Migraine
If a combination of migraine symptoms is not believed to be caused by other disorders, a doctor will label the headaches as either migraines with aura or migraines without aura. When someone has a migraine with aura, a sufferer will experience visual and auditory symptoms. A visual aura is the most common symptom, affecting 82 to 90 percent of people suffering from migraines with aura. This type can induce blurry or cloudy vision, a loss of vision, or the perception of darkness or light that is not there. These visuals occur before the pain of the migraine begins. A sensory aura is another possible symptom, including tingling sensations or numbness before the actual headache. These sensations can be felt virtually anywhere, from the tongue to the toes. When diagnosing a migraine without aura, the presence of nausea or vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell are all taken into account.
When attempting to diagnose migraines, a health professional will ask questions regarding general health and habits, when headaches began, and how long a person has been experiencing the pain. The different types of headaches and their frequency are also taken into account. Triggers such as certain dietary choices, situational stresses, and medications are looked at, and finally family history will be explored.
Symptoms of a Migraine
A classic and very common symptom of a migraine is throbbing and pulsating pain that can be felt in the head and sometimes elsewhere in the body. Light and sound sensitivity are the second and third most reported symptoms respectively. Some migraines can even be triggered by extreme lights and sounds: This can create a vicious cycle, as the stimulus triggers a migraine, which makes the person more sensitive to the stimulus, which then worsens the migraine. Sensitivity to these stimuli may be combined with nausea. Around 44% of people experience blurred vision with their migraines. Aura is present in 36% of cases and vomiting in 29%. Stiff neck, dizziness, weakness, and sensitivity to smell can occur as well.
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