Migraine is a disease in which a strong headache is the main focus of suffering and symptoms. Migraines are often accompanied by nausea, sensitivity to light and noise aversion.
What is migraine?
Migraine is best defined as a mostly one-sided headache with recurring attacks, often accompanied by vomiting and nausea.
Those affected often perceive migraines as a kind of painful aura that is characterized by neurological symptoms.
These include above all: going black before the eyes, dizziness, paralysis, speech disorders, visual disorders and disturbed senses of smell and taste. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Migraine.
The causes of migraines have not yet been fully researched. It is assumed, however, that there are mainly family or genetic reasons behind this disease. Above all, nerve excitability probably plays a central role in this context. The thesis that insufficient blood flow to the brain (ischemia) is responsible for migraines is considered outdated. However, it is possible that a pinched facial nerve, for example, can cause a painful headache.
Today, however, it is believed that the neurotransmitter serotonin plays a major role in the development of migraines. Serotonin is a substance that acts to excite a nerve cell. Neurotransmitters have either an inhibitory or an irritating effect on human perception or nerve constructs. In the case of migraines, the serotonin levels are probably no longer in balance, leading to nerve disorders and excitability.
The distinctive headache is due to an excitation of the nerve fibers in the cerebral cortex. A painful, pulsating or stabbing wave of pain can spread. Other causes can also be lack of sleep, stress, bright light, overwork, smoking, alcohol and hormonal disorders.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Migraines are very severe and long-lasting headaches that often only occur on one side. Typical symptoms of a migraine are headaches, photophobia or hypersensitivity to noise. The well-known headache is the key symptom from which probably every affected person suffers.
The affected side where the headache occurs is the same in many patients. The stabbing pain builds up over two hours, so that in many cases it can even lead to bouts of nausea. The pain often has a restless and tormenting character, so that the ability to concentrate also decreases. Very simple activities such as climbing stairs can only be carried out with great difficulty and with great effort.
This also severely limits the general performance of the person concerned. Dry mouth at night is also a common symptom associated with a migraine. A migraine has very clear symptoms, so that those affected can often make an explicit diagnosis themselves. If you want to achieve relief, you should definitely get involved in medical and drug treatment. Otherwise there is a risk that the respective symptoms will increase and worsen considerably.
course of the disease
A migraine develops in five phases:
- Preliminary phase: During the preliminary phase of a migraine, either the senses are overly sensitive, cravings and hyperactivity, or the complete opposite, i.e. exhaustion, tiredness, nausea and sometimes also constipation.
- Aura phase: As the name itself correctly describes, a type of aura develops in the aura phase, which is primarily characterized by visual disturbances and other neuronal-visual abnormalities.
- Headache phase: This is where the typical boring, throbbing, pulsating or stabbing headaches occur. However, the pain can occur in different places in those affected. In most patients, the headache occurs primarily in the forehead. This phase is accompanied by sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, nausea and sometimes also vomiting. Some of those affected suffer so severely that they can only rest or lie motionless in darkened, quiet rooms. The duration of the headache phase is usually 4 to 70 hours.
- Resolution phase: In this phase of the migraine, the pain and symptoms decrease again. Those affected feel listless, tired and drained at the same time.
- Recovery phase: At the end of the migraine course, the recovery phase begins, which takes up to two days. Only then will the migraine attack and headache completely disappear.
A migraine can be accompanied by various complications. One of the most feared long-term consequences is chronic migraine. Doctors speak of a chronic form when migraine symptoms appear on at least 15 days a month. The length of the pain doesn’t matter. Frequent attacks usually occur with migraines without an aura.
The so-called status migraenosus is also one of the migraine complications. With this form of migraine, the symptoms last longer than 72 hours despite medical treatment. In addition, there is frequent vomiting, which in turn increases the risk of dehydration (dehydration).
Sometimes even the circulatory system of those affected breaks down, so that inpatient therapy in a hospital is necessary. It often takes many years before status migraenosus occurs, during which migraine attacks recur and numerous medications are administered.
Another consequence is the migraine infarction, which is a cerebral infarction. It is accompanied by an aura that lasts for over an hour. One of the rare complications of migraine is persistent aura. The aura symptoms last longer than a week.
However, a cerebral infarction cannot be proven. In most cases, the aura symptoms are bilateral. Permanent brain damage is not to be feared due to the persistent aura, in contrast to migraine infarction.
When should you go to the doctor?
With a recurring migraine, a doctor should be consulted for a diagnosis. Therefore, any patient who has ever suffered from migraines or suspects that migraines are behind recurring headaches should see a doctor. First of all, the doctor treating you is concerned with making a reliable diagnosis of the migraine and ruling out any other diseases that could cause such symptoms. A form of treatment must then be found that enables the patient to enjoy as much quality of life as possible despite the migraine.
If the migraine occurs in severe form or if the migraine attacks are so distressing that they lead to incapacity to work, you should see the doctor again, because there are good treatment options nowadays. If the symptoms of a migraine change, get worse or get much better, the doctor should clarify why. The side effects of migraines also occur with other diseases. However, migraine sufferers would possibly overlook such symptoms or not take them seriously because they already know them from the migraine and attribute them to it. Changed symptoms can also occur because the medication is no longer tolerated – it may then be necessary for the doctor to change the dosage or the active ingredient.
Treatment & Therapy
The treatment or therapy of migraines usually lasts for years. Complete healing is often not possible or not in sight. So far, migraine treatment has mainly relied on medication and other therapeutic measures. The main aim is to relieve headaches and other symptoms or migraines.
You can reduce headaches independently, especially with cold compresses, migraine goggles, lots of sleep, little stress, and withdrawal from noise and bright light. Various foods should also be avoided. Foods that trigger migraines include alcohol, cheese, glutamate and chocolate. Furthermore, therapeutic measures for stress management should be learned and applied. Autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation have shown promise here.
Painkillers should only be taken in consultation with the doctor treating you. These include, for example, antiemetics against nausea and analgesics (eg paracetamol, ibuprofen ) against the pain. Strong coffee can sometimes help with a mild headache, as caffeine can relieve pain.
Outlook & Forecast
Migraines can take very different courses. Some people unfortunately have severe migraine attacks again and again, others have irregular attacks that can be treated with medication. The prognosis depends on the intensity and cause of the migraine. Drug therapy using beta blockers, painkillers or anticonvulsants such as topiramate is usually sufficient.
Severe migraine attacks represent an enormous burden in everyday life for those affected. Although the attacks decrease with age, the intensity can increase. Especially with an unhealthy lifestyle, the prognosis is rather negative. Chronic migraine sufferers usually suffer from the symptoms throughout their lives. The prognosis is better in children during puberty. The migraine usually subsides after a few months, with no long-term consequences to be expected. In affected women, migraines often subside during menopause, in men during andropause.
However, migraines usually require ongoing therapy because the symptoms can return months or years later. Life expectancy is not reduced by a migraine, but the quality of life is greatly reduced in migraine forms such as cluster headaches.
Migraines are difficult to prevent. Nevertheless, a life without stress, a lot of exercise or sport in nature or in the fresh air are among the most important preventive measures. A healthy diet with sufficient minerals and trace elements should also be ensured. Smoking and alcohol are taboo for migraine sufferers. Autogenic training can be good for some people affected to prevent stress and thus also migraines.
The recurring pain attacks represent an enormous burden for the psyche and body. Headaches lead to excessive blood circulation in various parts of the body and are usually associated with high blood pressure and other complaints. Vision problems can lead to accidents and falls when the sufferer suddenly has a migraine attack. In the long term, this can also lead to the development of anxiety disorders.
Since emotional stress promotes the attacks, it is important for migraine patients to be particularly careful with their mental balance. Excessively stressful situations should be avoided, instead balancing sports such as jogging and yoga or swimming can help to relax the mind and increase well-being.
Plenty of fresh air and long walks should always be part of the day to prevent mood swings, irritability and depressive moods. Many migraine sufferers suffer from hair loss or paleness, for example, these symptoms being caused by prolonged stress. Sometimes follow-up care should include psychological support.
You can do that yourself
Keeping a pain diary helps identify possible migraine triggers. If certain foods are responsible for the pain attacks, they must be consistently avoided. In many cases, migraine headaches that are dependent on the female menstrual cycle can be positively influenced by changing the contraceptive method: For example, switching to a birth control pill without estrogen can bring improvement.
Learning relaxation techniques such as yoga or Jacobson’s muscle relaxation counteracts stress-related migraines, and regular sporting activities also help to reduce stress. Value should also be placed on a regulated daily routine with sufficient breaks for relaxation.
In the early phase of a migraine attack, home remedies can ward off an attack or weaken the course. Medicinal herbal preparations with willow bark, butterbur or rooibos have proven themselves – this also ensures increased fluid intake, which should not only be taken care of during an acute attack. Contrast showers, treading water or cold arm baths can help as long as the pain has not fully set in. Grated ginger is an effective anti-nausea remedy and can prevent headaches in some cases if taken early enough.
If it is not possible to ward off the migraine in the early stages, the best way to survive an attack is in a quiet, darkened room. Painkillers available in pharmacies can provide relief, but if you have repeated migraine attacks, you should see a doctor.