Migraine Basics

Did you know that 39 million Americans are affected by migraines? It is an invisible disease where no one sees you struggle. It is isolating. Unpredictable. Inconvenient. It steals time and joy, and, for many, it doesn’t respond well to treatment.

What is a migraine? Migraine is more than just a bad headache. It is a genetic neurological disease that the medical community still doesn’t completely understand. There is no cure.

What causes migraines? The migraine brain tends to be hypersensitive and tends to react to one or a combination of triggers, such as stress, lack of sleep, dehydration, bright or flashing lights, loud noises, or skipping meals to name a few.

What are the symptoms of a migraine? Everybody is different, but some of the more common symptoms are: usually one-sided, severe head pain, nausea and/or vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound and/or smells, confusion, and neck stiffness or pain.

How long does a migraine last? Migraines can have four stages: prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome.

The prodrome phase can involve symptoms that can warn you a migraine is coming, such as sensitivity to light, sound or smells, stiff neck, yawning, or fatigue.

While only 30% experience the aura phase, it can be very unsettling. It usually involves visual disturbances, such as flashing lights, wavy lines or spots, and sometimes temporary loss of vision.

The headache phase usually involves head pain on one or sometimes both sides of the head, it can be throbbing or pulsating and is normally aggravated by physical activity. The headache phase can involve nausea and/or vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound and smells.

The postdrome phase can be just as debilitating as the headache phase and can involve fatigue, body aches, difficulty concentrating and depression. It can last for several days.

What can you do?

See a doctor or headache specialist to get a proper diagnosis. Track your migraines – your symptoms, when they start and end, what you were doing right before the migraine attack started. Talk to your doctor about treatments or medications to either abort a migraine attack or to prevent them.

Practice good self-care: get good quality sleep, stay very hydrated, eat well, try to get some regular, gentle exercise, and manage your stress levels.

Most of all, listen to your body. Rest when your body tells you. Practice stress relaxation, such as yoga, tai chi or mindful meditation. Take up “forest bathing” – something that is easy to do in this gorgeous place we live.

For those that have migraines, you are not alone in this fight. Don’t give up! Between old treatments and new treatments there are more options than ever before. Life with migraine can be isolating, but you don’t have to do it alone.

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