A migraine is a headache characterized by throbbing pain and pulsing, generally on one side of the head. Sufferers often have nausea and vomiting and may be sensitive to light and sound during the attack. A migraine is different than the occasional headache everyone gets once in awhile. They tend to develop early in life and progress through identifiable stages:
The prodrome starts one or two days prior to a headache. The patient may be constipated or feel moody for no reason. There are sometimes food cravings such as a need for salt or caffeine, too.
The aura stage involves the nervous system. You may notice flashing lights or feel muscle weakness. Not everyone experiences an aura but those who do describe visual phenomena, numbness in an arm or leg and even odd smells.
The attack itself lasts anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days and is followed by the postdrome. The postdrome goes on for about 24 hours after a headache subsides and, for most people, means a feeling of weakness and exhaustion.
It's not clear why some people get migraines while others don't. There seems to be a genetic factor involved, though, as they tend to run in family. One current theory involves a change in the way the brainstem interactions with a major pain pathway. The change may be due to an imbalance of brain chemicals. Research shows that serotonin levels drop during an attack which would support that theory.
The biggest risk factor is family history. A child with a parent who has migraines has a good chance of developing them, as well. Age seems to be a factor, too. They usually start during the teen years, peak in the 30s and then drop off as a person grows older.
Migraines are more common in women, triggered by hormone changes associated with menstruation. Boys may get them around puberty but grow out of them quickly.
Environmental sensitivities are common for most people with migraines, too. A certain food can trigger an attack like alcohol. Part of a strategic migraine management plan at Rose Urgent Care & Family Practice will include tracking potential triggers and figuring out how to avoid them.