Migraines are one of the most common health conditions affecting people today. They can range from mild to debilitating, and cause people to suffer from a range of problems ranging from blurred vision to nausea among others. Dr. Atta G.A. Alkaznaji, Specialist – Neurology at Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi explains what migraines are, what causes them and how they can be managed.
Q: What is migraine and what are some of the symptoms?
A: Migraine is a chronic condition, and presents as headaches that are usually experienced on one side, or both sides of the head. The pain experienced can be intense and throbbing, and may also be felt in the temples, or behind the eye/s. These headaches can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, spots in the vision, blurred vision and sensitivity to smells, light and sound. A migraine can occur any time of the day; most people tend to get in the mornings, with the pain lasting for anywhere for an hour to 72 hours. People who suffer from them can get them twice a week, or even twice a year.
People can also suffer from a migraine with an aura. In such a scenario, a person might have certain sensory symptoms, such as flashing lights, blind spots, numbness, or tingling in the face and hands, irregularities in their sense of taste and smell, or feeling fuzzy, 10 minutes to half an hour before the onset of a headache. Some people could also experience hyperactivity, food cravings, irritability, depression, stiffness in the neck, or constant yawning a day or two prior to the onset of a migraine. Fatigue and general exhaustion are also typical when a migraine attack is over.
Q: What causes a migraine attack?
A: The exact cause of a migraine is not very clear; the reasons could range from genetic factors to having a brain that is more sensitive to certain stimuli compared to others. Migraines are also linked to an imbalance in brain chemicals such as serotonin, as the levels of serotonin drop during migraines. Women are also more likely to have migraines compared to men, and their migraines are often triggered by hormonal changes.
There are certain triggers that cause migraines. These include a lack of or too much sleep, irregular eating habits, certain food or food additives, sensory stimuli such as bright lights, loud sounds and strong odors, stress, weather changes, alcohol and caffeine, or changes in lifestyle such as those brought on by travel, etc.
Q: What is the treatment for migraines?
A: There’s no cure for migraines. However, people suffering from migraines have to learn to manage them with the help of their doctor.
Doctors could prescribe OTCs (Over-the-counter) analgesics such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen, which can provide relief from the headaches when taken in the right dose at the right time. Doctors can prescribe stronger mediation for those who don’t respond to the OTCs. Medication can be given as a preventive measure to curb symptoms of the condition as well. Hormone therapy may also be suggested for women whose migraines are triggered by hormonal changes.
Lifestyle changes play a great role in curbing triggers. These include a regular schedule with set times for meals, complemented with exercise and adequate sleep. Reduced caffeine and alcohol intake is recommended. Relaxation techniques and yoga can also help reduce stress, which is a known trigger for migraines.
However, it is very important that you seek medical attention if the symptoms get worse, as they could indicate something more serious. Headaches which worsen with movement, or come on suddenly; headaches that bring on fever and seizures, or those experienced after an injury shouldn’t be ignored.
Courtesy of Burjeel Hospital Abu Dhabi