We have all experienced headaches at some point in time. Sometimes, the headaches are mild and bearable, which can be cured by over the counter medications. On the other hand, some headaches are moderate to severe in intensity and may occur on one side of the head associated with irritation of light and sounds, which could be a migraine.
Did you know that migraines are not just simple headaches? There are numerous types of headaches that are medically identified, and migraine is only one among them. A migraine is a neurological condition in which one experiences episodic headaches mostly on one side of the head. The condition can be caused in men, women and even in children, although women are major sufferers of the condition. A migraine attack is generally accompanied by nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity. A typical migraine attack lasts for a minimum of four hours and may continue for up to three days in the most severe form.
Unhealthy lifestyle practices, including poor eating habits, are considered to be important causative factors of the condition. Different people may experience migraines differently as the condition may be triggered by various reasons. There are various mental, emotional and environmental factors that differ in each individual and may include stress, lack of sufficient sleep, depression, strong scents or smells, smoking, certain food products like chocolates, caffeine or dairy products, alcohol, irregular meals and certain medications.
All our daily activities, like memory, thinking and general motor activity, are controlled by chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Chemical imbalances in the brain that regulate the nervous system play a role in the cause of the condition. An individual’s genetic makeup may make one much more sensitive to triggers of the condition. Hormonal changes in a woman’s body cause some women to experience migraines during the time of their monthly periods.
Each individual may experience different triggers that may also change from time to time. Various triggers – such as a throbbing headache, irritability, vertigo or sensitivity to light, sound or smell – are not definitive causes of a migraine but they stimulate the condition.
Upon experiencing severe headaches lasting for more than 24 hours and experiencing symptoms like seizures, decreased levels of consciousness or loss of consciousness, high fever combined with stiff neck/neck pain, one must consult with a healthcare specialist. Symptoms that worsen over a course of time could be indicative of a severe brain condition.
Do not ignore persistent symptoms of headaches as they could develop into much severe health concerns. While it is true that a migraine cannot be cured, it can be controlled with proper treatment. The proper diagnosis of the condition can help in effective management of the condition. Treatment options for migraines depend on the severity of the condition. In some case, simple lifestyle modifications, like getting adequate sleep, reducing stress, consuming healthy food and avoiding certain triggers, can help make a difference.
In severe cases, along with lifestyle changes, there are medications available to prevent and treat the condition. These should be taken only upon consultation with a specialist and not over the counter. If a patient with migraine who is not following lifestyle modifications and or taking preventive medicines, keeps taking over the counter painkillers, they can develop a condition called medication overuse headache. In this condition, the frequency and severity of headaches worsen day by day due to use of over the counter painkillers. Hence, it is important to make lifestyle modifications and be on preventive medications as per a healthcare specialist’s advice.
By Dr Vishal Pawar. Specialist Neurologist, Aster Speciality Clinic, International City