Migraine has also been referred to as a neurovascular headache due to the fact that one aspect of migraine development involves changes in the chemistry and diameter of the blood vessels that provides blood to the brain and the nerves in the neck and head.
How does migraine occur?
The common belief is that the sequence of occurrence of the migraine headache pains is as follows:
1. First the blood vessels surrounding the brain becomes dilated and starting pressing on the adjacent nerves. It is still a mystery though on exactly how and why these blood vessels dilate although it seems that there is some form of chemical signal that is activating the pain sensors in the trigeminal nerve that runs from a location near the skull center, up and over the eyes and then towards the forehead.
2. These stimulated nerve fibers then release fragments of proteins, known as neuropeptides, which cause the swelling and inflammation of the blood vessels.
3. The expansion of the blood vessels irritates the trigeminal nerve further, like a vicious cycle, resulting in the migraine headache pain.
Symptoms of migraine
A migraine attack typically goes through four distinct phases where the migraine sufferers will encounter certain migraine symptoms for each phase.
General symptoms experienced in the prodrome phase, also known as the preheadache phase, includes irritability, increased yawning, fatigue, mood swings and food cravings.
About 15% of migraine sufferers can experience an aura before the development of the migraine headache. Symptoms experienced are weakness or numbness on one side of the body, visual disturbances such as seeing blind spots and flashing lights, slurred speech and sensitivity to sound and light.
The migraine headache phase can usually last between 4 to 72 hours and is considered to be the most scary and painful phase. The symptom encountered is a throbbing headache where in about 60% of the cases, the headache occurs on only one side of the head. Other associated symptoms experienced includes diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness and tinnitus.
The postdrome phase is when the pain and other associated symptoms have resolved and most of the time the migraine sufferer just feel like wanting to be left alone. Common symptoms encountered in this phase are surge in energy, increased appetite, euphoria, fatigue and confusion.
Not all migraine sufferers will go through all the four phases though. An example is a person who is suffering from migraine without aura, will completely skip the aura phase during the migraine attack. It is important that we understand what is migraine and the symptoms of migraine indepth so that we can differentiate it from other types of headaches and be able to seek appropriate treatment.
Around 39 million Americans experience migraine headaches, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. If you’re one of these people, you know the sometimes debilitating symptoms they can cause, which include:
- sensitivity to light, sound, and odors
By identifying and avoiding specific triggers, you can minimize your chances of having a migraine.
Read on to learn how to avoid a migraine before it begins.
1. Avoid loud noises and bright lights
Loud noises, flashing lights (for example, strobe lights), and sensory stimulation are common triggers for migraine headaches. These stimuli may be difficult to avoid, but knowing that they occur in certain situations and environments could help. These include:
- driving at night
- being in movie theaters
- attending clubs or crowded venues
- experiencing glare from the sun
Take breaks from the TV or computer screen to rest your eyes, and adjust the brightness levels on digital screens. Pay close attention to all visual and audio disturbances, and make sure you can easily avoid them if a migraine arises.
2. Pay attention to food choices
Certain foods and drinks can initiate headaches, such as:
- red wine
- processed meats
Know which foods and additives bring about a headache for you and learn to avoid them. Foods and drinks with caffeine or alcohol — especially red wines or champagne — are common triggers. Limit the amount you consume during the day, or avoid them altogether if need be.
3. Keep a headache diary
By keeping a diary, you can easily identify your specific migraine triggers. Here are examples of the things you could keep note of:
- what you eat and drink
- your exercise routine and schedule
- the weather
- strong feelings and emotions you may be having
- your medications and their side effects
- times and severity of your headaches
This can help you see a pattern in your migraine occurrences and will make avoiding one easier.
4. Beware of hormonal changes
Hormones play a significant role in terms of migraines. Many women tend to experience more migraine headaches during, or just before, their menstrual period. Women should be especially vigilant with their diet and exercise habits during this time. This will ease symptoms before they begin. According to the Mayo Clinic, oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may increase the frequency and severity of migraines. Some women may find relief by switching to another form of birth control, while others may find they have fewer migraines while taking birth control.
5. Take supplements
Although migraines can be treated with or without medications, it’s important to get the proper nutrients. Taking certain herbs and minerals may help ward off migraines. Magnesium deficiency has been shown to contribute to the onset of migraines, so taking a daily supplement may help reduce outbursts. However, the Mayo Clinic reports that the results from these studies have been mixed. Talk with your doctor about herbal remedies and other nonprescription supplements that may ease your symptoms.
6. Pay attention to the weather
Changes in the weather can impact your migraine patterns. High humidity and hot temperatures can stimulate headaches, as well as rainy days. If the weather becomes uncomfortable for you, you may need to step inside and take a break from the outdoors. Of course, you can’t always avoid going outside, but you can minimize your time spent in certain headache-inducing weather.
7. Eat and sleep on a regular schedule
Fasting or skipping meals can trigger migraine headaches. Make sure you eat within an hour of waking up and then every three to four hours. Hunger and dehydration both cause migraines. Make sure you’re drinking enough water, and never skip a meal.
Lack of sleep can also aggravate symptoms, so make sure you clock in at least seven to eight hours. Even getting too much sleep can cause headaches, so don’t try to make up for lost sleep by snoozing too long.
8. Avoid stress
Although we can’t always control stressful situations, we can control how we react to them. Migraines are a common result of stressful events. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, and biofeedback can help reduce levels of stress.
9. Choose relaxing exercises
Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But intense exercise, such as weight lifting, can trigger headaches.
Pay attention to your body’s response to certain activities. Opt for activities that promote stress reduction without putting too much strain on the body, such as yoga, light aerobics, or tai chi. Taking anti-inflammatory drugs prior to exercise may help ease symptoms.
Learning to avoid your specific triggers and planning ahead are an important part of keeping your migraines under control. By catching them early, you can avoid the most severe symptoms.
For more tips on preventing and managing migraines, download our free app, Migraine Healthline. Not only can you find expert resources on migraine, but we’ll connect you with real people who understand what you’re going through. Ask questions, seek advice, and build relationships with others who get it. Download the app for iPhone or Android.