Elvis Presley, Stephen King, Serena Williams, and Princess Margaret are just some of the famous people who have suffered from migraines.
Migraines are headaches that typically last from 4-72 hours and you may experience nausea and vomiting as well as sensitivity to light or sound.
There are more than three million migraine sufferers in Australia, meaning that more people suffer from migraines in Australia than diabetes, asthma, or coronary heart disease. It is thought that more women suffer migraines than men due to hormonal factors. The onset of a migraine is from childhood onwards but most commonly in the 20s and 30s.
Symptoms of migraine
A migraine headache has different symptoms from other types of headache. Migraine symptoms can include:
- headache: one-sided, throbbing moderate to severe
- nausea and vomiting
- sensitivity to light
- sensitivity to sound
- affected vision, such as an aura (bright zigzag lines, flashing lights)
- difficulty in concentrating, confusion, coordination
- stiffness of the neck and shoulders
- sensitivity to smell and touch
- numbness of the face or extremities
What causes migraines?
Susceptibility to migraine is normally inherited. Certain parts of the brain employing monoamines, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, appear to be in a hypersensitive state, reacting promptly and excessively to stimuli such as emotion, bombardment with sensory impulses, or any sudden change in the internal or external environment. If the brainstem systems controlling the cerebral cortex become active, the brain starts to shut down, a process starting at the back of the brain in the visual cortex and working slowly forward. The pain nucleus of the trigeminal nerve becomes spontaneously active; pain is felt in the head or upper neck and blood flow in the face and scalp increases reflexly. Noradrenaline is released from the adrenal gland and causes the platelets to release serotonin.
Triggers for migraine
No one really knows what causes migraine, however, attacks are almost certainly triggered by a combination of factors, such as:
- diet – cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, alcohol (especially red wine)
- sleep – too little or too much
- menstrual cycle
- physiochemical – excessive heat, light, noise, or certain chemicals
- emotional causes – stress, excitement, or fatigue
- relaxation (weekend migraines) – often triggered by a period of stress and overwork followed by relaxation.
Nearly all people who suffer from migraines report a reduction in social activities and work capacity.
Treatment of migraine
There is no cure for migraines and prevention is difficult, but treatments can help reduce the number of attacks. Migraines vary greatly from person to person and so does the treatment. If you feel you suffer from migraines it is important to consult your health care professional to discuss treatment options.
The four treatment options available to migraine sufferers include:
- prevention – avoiding trigger factors – this can be difficult, if not impossible since migraines are often triggered by a combination of factors
- pain-relieving medication and medication to alter the pressure on blood vessels
- preventative treatment medication
- non-medication therapies – including acupuncture, biofeedback, goggles, hypnotherapy, exclusion diets, relaxation, yoga, meditation, herbal or homeopathic remedies.
INFORMATION SOURCES: HEADACHEAUSTRALIA.ORG.AU, BETTERHEALTH.VIC.GOV.AU