Anyone who's had a migraine knows they're no joke. More than your typical headache, migraine headaches are severe; can last for hours, days, or weeks; and come with more than just head pain. In addition to a headache, which is usually felt on one side of the head, many people with migraines also experience nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to sound and/or light, a temporary loss of vision, visual disturbances, or pain behind the ear or eye. Some people can tell when a migraine is coming on by the symptoms they have in the days prior to the headache. These symptoms may include depression, irritability, yawning, constipation, food cravings, or stiffness in the neck.
Despite the prevalence of migraines, myths and misconceptions still abound. Let's set the record straight and get a few things right about the nature of migraines.
While migraines include bad headaches, they are more than just a pain in the head. Once believed to be caused by the dilation and constriction of blood vessels, migraines are now considered a neurological disease that involves nerves and chemicals in the brain. Headaches are just one of the many symptoms. Sometimes people have what are called “silent” migraines and have no actual headache, but they still suffer from migraines.
It may not be the actual migraine that's life-threatening, but the complications can be. There seems to be a clear link between migraines and heart disease and stroke. Studies show more women who deal with migraines die from heart disease than those who don't have migraines. Also, people with migraines are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke than the rest of the population.
Only a quarter of all migraines are accompanied by an aura. Beginning about an hour before the headache sets in, an aura may cause vision loss, strange visual disturbances, hallucinations, weakness, confusion, or tingling in the face or hands that last about an hour and then go away.
While there's no cure for migraines and it may take time to find a medication that works for you, there are many effective treatments for migraines. Work with your doctor to find the best ways to prevent and manage migraines in your situation. The vast majority of migraines respond well to medications, and only a few seem resistant to treatment.
Because of the many misconceptions, the complex nature of migraines, and a lack of proper training, many physicians don't have the knowledge and expertise to effectively treat migraines. Anyone seeking medical help for migraines should make an appointment with a migraine specialist. These may be family practice doctors, neurologists, or internal medicine physicians.
You may hear of more women getting migraines, but men, women, and even children can get them. It's estimated that 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men suffer migraines.
Years ago a theory proposed that only intelligent, high-strung, perfectionistic, insecure people got migraines. This “migraine personality” has since been disproved. There's no dominant personality trait common to all migraine sufferers.
Scientific research shows migraines are a neurological disease with physiological triggers, not psychological triggers. They're not “all in your head,” but have been linked to hormonal changes, foods, additives, drinks, weather patterns, medications, loud sounds, bright lights, or strong smells.