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Migraines and Headaches: Types and Relief Treatment Information

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2019/01/02

Synopsis: Information regarding types of migraines and headaches including pain levels and treatment methods.

Main Document

Migraine is a chronic neurological disease characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches often in association with a number of autonomic nervous system symptoms. Typically the headache affects one half of the head, is pulsating in nature, and lasts from 2 to 72 hours. Associated symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. The pain is generally made worse by physical activity.

Many people who have migraine headaches experience pain in their temples, or behind an eye or ear; there is potential for any part of their head to be involved. Migraines may cause additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sound or light. Some people who experience migraine headaches also see flashing lights, spots, or experience a temporary loss of vision.

A person may experience a migraine headache at any point during the day, although they often start in the morning. The pain associated with a migraine may last from a few hours up to a couple of days. Some people experience migraines as often as once or twice a week, while others only get them once or twice annually. Migraines are not usually a threat to the person's overall health, although they can interfere with everyday living. The causes of migraines are not known at this time, although there are some things that are more common in people who experience them. Migraines commonly affect people between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five who have a family history of them. They are more common in women than men, and they tend to become less severe and frequent as people age.

Difference Between Headache and Migraine

A, 'Tension Headache,' differs from a Migraine in that it is less severe and is rarely disabling. Tension headaches present mild-to-moderate pain, are distracting but not debilitating, present a steady ache, and may involve one side of the person's head. Migraines may also have mild-to-moderate pain, but can also involve moderate-to-severe pain. Tension headaches can involve both sides of a person's head, but rarely include a sensitivity to sounds or light, nausea, or vomiting.

Migraines present intense, pounding or throbbing pain that is debilitating with a steady ache. Migraine headaches may also involve one side of a person's head. Migraine headaches can involve both sides of a person's head, and can involve sensitivity to sounds or light, nausea, or vomiting. Things such as stress and fatigue can start either a tension headache or a migraine. Both of these types of headaches can also be triggered by changes in a person's body hormone levels, certain foods, or even changes in the weather.

Headaches respond differently to treatment with medications. While there are some over-the-counter medications that are used to treat tension headaches that may assist with migraines, the drugs that are often used to treat migraines do not work in treating tension headaches for the majority of people. Telling the difference between a tension headache and a migraine cannot be achieved by the frequency of their occurrence. Both types of headaches may happen at irregular intervals. In rare instances, both forms of headaches can occur on a daily or almost daily basis.

Is it a Migraine or a Sinus Headache?

A number of people mistake a sinus headache for a migraine due to the pressure and pain on their sinuses, as well as the watery eyes they experience and the nasal congestion. There are some questions that can help to differentiate between the two types of headaches:

If the answer to two or more of these questions in addition to experiencing the sinus symptoms is, 'yes,' then you most likely have a migraine with sinus symptoms. True sinus headaches are rare and usually occur in conjunction with a sinus infection. Sinus infections commonly present in addition with additional symptoms such as thick nasal secretions which are green, yellow, or blood-tinged, and a fever. Sinus headaches usually go away when treatment for an associated sinus infection is received.

When to Seek Help

There are times when a headache can be a signal of a more serious issue. Contact a doctor if your headache disrupts your work, school life, or home life, or if you have had several headaches each month and each of them lasts several hours or days. You should also contact a doctor if you experience nausea, vomiting, numbness, tingling, loss of vision or other sensory problems in association with the headaches you have. If you have pain around your ear or eye, have a severe headache with a stiff neck, experience a headache with confusion or a loss of alertness, or one with convulsion - definitely contact a doctor. If you have a headache after experiencing a blow to the head, or you used to be headache-free but now have a lot of headaches, be sure to contact a doctor.

Types of Migraines

Illustration of a faceless person holding their head in their hands with simulated red lightening bolts coming from the head.
Illustration of a faceless person holding their head in their hands with simulated red lightening bolts coming from the head.

Migraines are classified by the types of symptoms a person experiences in association with them. The two most common types of migraines that people experience are, 'Migraine With Aura,' and, 'Migraine Without Aura.' Other, less common, types of migraines include, 'Abdominal Migraine,' 'Basilar Artery Migraine,' 'Cartidynia,' 'Headache-Free Migraine,' 'Ophthalmoplegic Migraine/Ocular Migraine,' and, 'Status Migrainosus.' There are some women who experience migraine headaches either prior to or during menstruation; these migraines are referred to as, 'Menstrual Migraines.' Menstrual migraines could be related to hormonal changes. Many women who have experienced menstrual migraines to not experience them during pregnancy, or experience migraines less often, whole other women experience migraines for the first time during pregnancy, or after menopause.

Causes of Migraines

Researchers into the causes of migraines believe that they are due to abnormal changes in levels of substances which are naturally produced in a person's brain. Then the levels of these substances are increased they may cause inflammation, resulting in blood vessel swelling. Swollen blood vessels then press on nearby nerves, causing pain. Still, the exact causes of migraines remains unknown. Genetic involvement has also been linked to migraines. Persons who experience migraines may have genetic factors that control functions of their brain cells associated with migraines.

What is known is that persons who do experience migraines react to various factors and events, referred to as, 'triggers.' These triggers vary depending on the individual and do not always lead to a migraine. Combinations of triggers, not necessarily a single one, are more likely to initiate a migraine. An individual's response to triggers can also vary between migraines. People who experience migraines have found that they may be triggered by a number of things. These triggers include:

Keeping a diary of the things that trigger a migraine headache as well as additional things, can help you to work with your doctor to treat them. In a diary you should track:

Facts and Statistics

In the United States direct costs have been estimated at $17 billion, Nearly a tenth of this cost is due to the cost of triptans. including $15 billion in indirect costs, of which missed work is the greatest component. In those who do attend work with a migraine, effectiveness is decreased by around a third. Negative impacts also frequently occur for a person's family.

Discussions with your doctor about the triggers of the migraines and additional information concerning them will help your doctor to determine the appropriate treatment for you. Knowing the things to avoid triggering a migraine will help you to prevent known triggers. Awareness of the differences between the types of headaches and additional information can help you to stay as migraine and headache-free as possible.

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