Did you know that as many as 3/4 of adults worldwide had a headache in the past year? Among these, some of the most debilitating head pain comes from migraine headaches.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, migraine headaches can be triggered by a number of environmental factors, from stress and certain foods to fatigue or lack of sleep. It can also be triggered by other factors that may be surprising and not always as obvious.
If you experience head pain regularly, documenting not just your symptoms but the scenario preceding your episodes may help determine if it’s migraine or a more typical headache. It can also help to indicate when it’s time to consult a medical professional for advice and treatment of your pain.
Here are some common warning signs that you might be experiencing a migraine:
If you’re prone to migraines, be aware of some clues that a migraine could be imminent. This prodrome phase can arrive as little as an hour or as much as two days before a migraine attack (yes, even before aura, if you experience that pre-migraine effect).
Less common types of migraines can have unique and sometimes surprising symptoms. Because some may occur without head pain, you may not even realize you’re having a migraine!
If your symptoms align with one of these migraine types, reach out to a headache specialist for a treatment plan tailored to you.
Migraines can commonly affect women with menstrual cycles, due to the proven link between migraine and hormonal changes during menstruation. A menstrual migraine can occur during your period; specifically due to the natural drop of estrogen levels at that time. Women with heavier flows and more painful periods have higher levels of the hormone prostaglandin, also found to contribute to menstrual migraines.
A menstrual migraine typically occurs two days before, or 3 days into, your period and — like migraine episodes in general — can last from under an hour to a couple days. Women with menstrual migraines often also experience migraine at other times of the month as well.
The term hemiplegic indicates paralysis on one side of the body. Hemiplegic migraine occurs when nerve cells within the brain cannot intercommunicate properly. Although it’s rare, about half of children with a parent who experiences this type of migraine will also develop it over time.
During a hemiplegic migraine, an individual will experience temporary weakness on one side of the body, sometimes accompanied by common aura symptoms, such as visual spots and lines, as well as speech difficulties, vertigo, hearing problems, and confusion.
Because temporary paralysis is also a symptom of stroke, it’s critical to seek medical attention immediately to determine what’s causing the paralysis.
This type of migraine is characterized by a sensation of movement called vertigo. Vertigo can be external (feeling like the room is moving or spinning) or internal (feeling as if you’re swaying). Although the sensation can happen spontaneously, it’s usually triggered by your physical position or head movement, or by a visual experience that can make you dizzy.
An episode of vertigo can last from five minutes to 72 hours and can be quite disabling to anyone experiencing it. To rule out vestibular disorders, a case of vertigo or dizziness alone should be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, or to a neurologist who specializes in dizziness and balance disorders. But if symptoms of vertigo are accompanied by migraine symptoms (such as head pain, nausea, or sensitivity to light), consult a general neurologist or headache specialist to understand if or how the two are connected.
Symptoms include regular episodes of severe stomach pain that cause you to feel nauseous or to actually vomit. Attacks can last from 2-to-72 hours but, in the absence of head pain, you may not realize this is a migraine.
Abdominal migraine is most common in young people, affecting about 4 in 100 children, although it can affect some adults. While abdominal migraines tend to disappear as children grow, these same kids often develop migraine headaches later in life. Studies show that about 70% of people who experience abdominal migraine also have periods of migraine headache. If you experience both, a headache specialist can determine the connection between the two.
During a pre-migraine aura stage, an individual might experience visual symptoms. But it’s also possible to have acephalgic migraine, a visual migraine without a headache. In these cases, visual symptoms are identical to those that usually accompany a migraine aura…except the severe headache never comes.
In most visual migraines, symptoms can include sparkly or shimmering effects resembling jagged lines or “fireworks,” or even double vision in rare cases. These symptoms typically last 20 to 30 minutes, then resolve completely. However, if you experience this type of visual effects, it’s important to reach out to a medical professional, as these symptoms may also indicate a condition or disorder other than migraine.
Keeping track of your symptoms — even smaller clues, changes, or patterns — can inform a headache specialist to help diagnose your migraine, triggers, and risk factors, and begin to bring you relief.
Note the circumstances before and during your headaches, including such details as the foods you've eaten and your physical activity level when you began to feel warning signs. Your specialist will also ask about your medical history, to understand if there is a family history of migraine or to determine if your migraines might actually be secondary headaches caused by an underlying condition.
Armed with this knowledge, the specialist can tailor treatment individually to you — a critical step, as every person’s migraine experience is unique to them. The right combination of treatments and lifestyle changes can put you on the right track to relief from frequent or severe migraines.
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