About headache & migraine

What is headache & migraine?

Migraine is a type of headache that is often localized in a certain area of the head and is sometimes accompanied by a pronounced sensitivity to light and sound. Other common migraine symptoms include nausea and vomiting. Migraines are usually gradual in onset, progressively more painful and then undergo a gradual resolution. When migraines are mild to moderate, they are usually described as being dull, deep and steady. When severe, migraines are throbbing or pulsating.

Some migraines are worsened by head motion, sneezing, straining or physical exertion. Since many patients also become sensitive to light and sound, some migraine sufferers will lie down in a darkened and quiet room to relieve symptoms.

More common in women than in men, migraine is a chronic condition, and migraine headaches may occur infrequently or as often as several times a week. Although migraines can begin at any time, the most common time is in the early morning. While migraines can begin during sleep, this is uncommon and must be evaluated to rule out other conditions.

The onset of migraine usually occurs between the ages of 5 and 35. It is treatable but not curable, and it is not considered a life-threatening condition, though rarely a severe migraine may cause a stroke. However, if the headaches are severe and frequent, migraine can have a debilitating impact on a person's life.



What are the symptoms for headache & migraine?

One or two days before a migraine, you might notice subtle changes that warn of an upcoming migraine, including:

  • Constipation
  • Mood changes, from Depression to euphoria
  • Food cravings
  • Neck stiffness
  • Increased urination
  • Fluid retention
  • Frequent yawning

Aura

For some people, an aura might occur before or during migraines. Auras are reversible symptoms of the nervous system. They're usually visual but can also include other disturbances. Each symptom usually begins gradually, builds up over several minutes and can last up to 60 minutes.

Examples of migraine auras include:

  • Visual phenomena, such as seeing various shapes, bright spots or flashes of light
  • Vision loss
  • Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
  • Weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking

Attack

A migraine usually lasts from 4 to 72 hours if untreated. How often migraines occur varies from person to person. Migraines might occur rarely or strike several times a month.

During a migraine, you might have:

  • Pain usually on one side of your head, but often on both sides
  • Pain that throbs or pulses
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and sometimes smell and touch
  • Nausea and vomiting

Post-drome

After a migraine attack, you might feel drained, confused and washed out for up to a day. Some people report feeling elated. Sudden head movement might bring on the pain again briefly.



What are the causes for headache & migraine?

Though migraine causes aren't fully understood, genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role.

Changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway, might be involved. So might imbalances in brain chemicals — including serotonin, which helps regulate pain in your nervous system.

Researchers are studying the role of serotonin in migraines. Other neurotransmitters play a role in the pain of migraine, including calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP).

Migraine triggers

There are a number of migraine triggers, including:

  • Hormonal changes in women. Fluctuations in estrogen, such as before or during menstrual periods, pregnancy and menopause, seem to trigger headaches in many women.

    Hormonal medications, such as oral contraceptives, also can worsen migraines. Some women, however, find that their migraines occur less often when taking these medications.

  • Drinks. These include alcohol, especially wine, and too much caffeine, such as coffee.
  • Stress. Stress at work or home can cause migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli. Bright or flashing lights can induce migraines, as can loud sounds. Strong smells — such as perfume, paint thinner, secondhand smoke and others — trigger migraines in some people.
  • Sleep changes. Missing sleep or getting too much sleep can trigger migraines in some people.
  • Physical factors. Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity, might provoke migraines.
  • Weather changes. A change of weather or barometric pressure can prompt a migraine.
  • Medications. Oral contraceptives and vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin, can aggravate migraines.
  • Foods. Aged cheeses and salty and processed foods might trigger migraines. So might skipping meals.
  • Food additives. These include the sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG), found in many foods.



What are the treatments for headache & migraine?

Migraine treatment is aimed at stopping symptoms and preventing future attacks.

Many medications have been designed to treat migraines. Medications used to combat migraines fall into two broad categories:

  • Pain-relieving medications. Also known as acute or abortive treatment, these types of drugs are taken during migraine attacks and are designed to stop symptoms.
  • Preventive medications. These types of drugs are taken regularly, often daily, to reduce the severity or frequency of migraines.

Your treatment choices depend on the frequency and severity of your headaches, whether you have nausea and vomiting with your headaches, how disabling your headaches are, and other medical conditions you have.

Medications for relief

Medications used to relieve migraine pain work best when taken at the first sign of an oncoming migraine — as soon as signs and symptoms of a migraine begin. Medications that can be used to treat it include:

  • Pain relievers. These over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers include aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others). When taken too long, these might cause medication-overuse headaches, and possibly ulcers and bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

    Migraine relief medications that combine caffeine, aspirin and acetaminophen (Excedrin Migraine) may be helpful, but usually only against mild migraine pain.

  • Triptans. Prescription drugs such as sumatriptan (Imitrex, Tosymra) and rizatriptan (Maxalt, Maxalt-MLT) are used to treat migraine because they block pain pathways in the brain. Taken as pills, shots or nasal sprays, they can relieve many symptoms of migraine. They might not be safe for those at risk of a stroke or heart attack.
  • Dihydroergotamine (D.H.E. 45, Migranal). Available as a nasal spray or injection, this drug is most effective when taken shortly after the start of migraine symptoms for migraines that tend to last longer than 24 hours. Side effects can include worsening of migraine-related vomiting and nausea.

    People with coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, or kidney or liver disease should avoid dihydroergotamine.

  • Lasmiditan (Reyvow). This newer oral tablet is approved for the treatment of migraine with or without aura. In drug trials, lasmiditan significantly improved headache pain. Lasmiditan can have a sedative effect and cause dizziness, so people taking it are advised not to drive or operate machinery for at least eight hours.
  • Ubrogepant (Ubrelvy). This oral calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor antagonist is approved for the treatment of acute migraine with or without aura in adults. It's the first drug of this type approved for migraine treatment. In drug trials, ubrogepant was more effective than placebo in relieving pain and other migraine symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound two hours after taking it. Common side effects include dry mouth, nausea and excessive sleepiness. Ubrogepant should not be taken with strong CYP3A4 inhibitor drugs.
  • CGRP antagonists. Ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) and rimegepant (Nurtec ODT) are oral CGRP antagonists recently approved for the treatment of acute migraine with or without aura in adults. In drug trials, drugs from this class were more effective than placebo in relieving pain and other migraine symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound two hours after taking it. Common side effects include dry mouth, nausea and excessive sleepiness. Ubrogepant and rimegepant should not be taken with strong CYP3A4 inhibitor drugs.
  • Opioid medications. For people who can't take other migraine medications, narcotic opioid medications might help. Because they can be highly addictive, these are usually used only if no other treatments are effective.
  • Anti-nausea drugs. These can help if your migraine with aura is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Anti-nausea drugs include chlorpromazine, metoclopramide (Reglan) or prochlorperazine (Compro). These are usually taken with pain medications.

Some of these medications are not safe to take during pregnancy. If you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant, don't use any of these medications without first talking with your doctor.

Preventive medications

Medications can help prevent frequent migraines. Your doctor might recommend preventive medications if you have frequent, long-lasting or severe headaches that don't respond well to treatment.

Preventive medication is aimed at reducing how often you get a migraine, how severe the attacks are and how long they last. Options include:

  • Blood pressure-lowering medications. These include beta blockers such as propranolol (Inderal, InnoPran XL, others) and metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor). Calcium channel blockers such as verapamil (Verelan) can be helpful in preventing migraines with aura.
  • Antidepressants. A tricyclic antidepressant (amitriptyline) can prevent migraines. Because of the side effects of amitriptyline, such as sleepiness, other antidepressants might be prescribed instead.
  • Anti-seizure drugs. Valproate and topiramate (Topamax, Qudexy XR, others) might help if you have less frequent migraines, but can cause side effects such as dizziness, weight changes, nausea and more. These medications are not recommended for pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant.
  • Botox injections. Injections of onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) about every 12 weeks help prevent migraines in some adults.
  • CGRP monoclonal antibodies. Erenumab-aooe (Aimovig), fremanezumab-vfrm (Ajovy), galcanezumab-gnlm (Emgality), and eptinezumab-jjmr (Vyepti) are newer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat migraines. They're given monthly or quarterly by injection. The most common side effect is a reaction at the injection site.

Ask your doctor if these medications are right for you. Some of these medications are not safe to take during pregnancy. If you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant, don't use any of these medications without first talking with your doctor.



What are the risk factors for headache & migraine?

Several factors make you more prone to having migraines, including:

  • Family history. If you have a family member with migraines, then you have a good chance of developing them too.
  • Age. Migraines can begin at any age, though the first often occurs during adolescence. Migraines tend to peak during your 30s, and gradually become less severe and less frequent in the following decades.
  • Sex. Women are three times more likely than men to have migraines.
  • Hormonal changes. For women who have migraines, headaches might begin just before or shortly after onset of menstruation. They might also change during pregnancy or menopause. Migraines generally improve after menopause.



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