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Migraines are more common than you think. Everyone either knows someone who suffers from migraines or struggles with migraines themselves. When you let the figures do the talking, you’d realize that about 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 15 men suffer from them.

Unlike your usual headaches, migraines can be absolutely crippling. Even big stars like Hugh Jackman – the invincible Wolverine – and rap artist Kanye West have been brought to their knees by these crushing attacks. That’s actually unsurprising, considering how the headache disorder affects more than 10 percent of the population worldwide.

Unfortunately, migraines are often not taken as seriously as they should be. Despite the severity and pervasiveness of the attacks, many continue to dismiss these as “just a bad headache”.

That’s the reality of living with this invisible (and often debilitating) illness.

 

What Are Migraines?

They are a recurring type of headache that can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation – usually on one side of the head. Migraines are typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting, as well as an extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

In some cases, the pain from an episode can be so severe that it disrupts your daily activities. A migraine headache can last from a couple of hours to several days at a time.

 

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What Causes Them?

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but researchers believe that it has a genetic cause. There are also a number of potential triggers, such as:

  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Too much or insufficient sleep
  • Bright or flashing lights
  • Flickering screens
  • Loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • Medicines (e.g., HRT, combined contraceptive pill)
  • Sudden changes in the weather or environment

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Some people also found that certain foods or ingredients can provoke migraine episodes – especially when combined with other triggers.

Common ones in this category include alcohol, chocolate, aged cheeses like cheddar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), some fruits and nuts, fermented or pickled goods, yeast, as well as cured or processed meats.

In a nutshell, different triggers cause migraine attacks in different people.

Sometimes the same trigger affects you, sometimes it doesn’t. Some individuals have migraines at predictable times, such as before menstruation or on weekends following a stressful week of work. Others have it just out of nowhere.

 

What Happens When You Experience A Migraine?

From symptoms to the frequency and severity of attacks, everyone’s experience with migraine will be different. There are four different phases of migraines – and you don’t always go through all of them during an episode.

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  • Prodrome

Known as the premonitory phase, prodrome usually starts up to 24 hours before the migraine hits. This is often considered a warning sign for an impending attack. Some early signs and symptoms include irritability, food cravings, unexplained mood changes, uncontrollable yawning, and increased urination.

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  • Aura

Some migraines are preceded by an aura – sensory or visual disturbances that appear as flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or a temporary loss of vision. An aura can also involve physical sensations, such as tingling, numbness, and dizziness.

Some individuals experience muscle weakness or feel like they are being touched or grabbed. Others struggle with speech or language difficulties. These can happen just before or during an episode. A migraine with aura is called “classic migraine”.

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  • Headache

A migraine attack usually starts gradually and becomes more severe over time. The headache phase is characterized by throbbing or pulsing pain on one or both sides of the head.

While most tend to associate migraine episodes with this phase, it’s possible to have “silent migraines” – when one experiences aura symptoms without a headache.

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  • Postdrome

Many individuals experience “migraine hangovers”. The postdrome is part of the migraine that typically occurs at the end of the headache phase.

Following a migraine episode, you may feel exhausted, weak, or confused. These symptoms may last hours or even a couple of days.

 

Who Is At Risk?

Several factors might make you more prone to having migraines, including:

  • Family history
  • Age – migraines often begin in adolescence, and peak during your 30s
  • Sex – women are three times more likely to have migraines
  • Hormonal changes – headaches often begin just before or shortly after the onset of menstruation
  • Other medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and epilepsy

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Can A Doctor Diagnose My Migraines?

Unfortunately, migraines are often underdiagnosed and undertreated.

This is likely because there are no actual tests to diagnose the condition. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and family history of migraines. Following this, a complete physical exam is done to determine if the headaches are due to muscle tension, sinus problems, or a brain disorder.

An important part of diagnosing migraines is to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms. As such, you may also have blood tests, an MRI or CT scan, or other tests.

 

What Are My Treatment Options?

Many migraine sufferers don’t seek help as they mistakenly believe they’re just suffering from regular headaches. While there is no cure, treatment can help relieve symptoms and reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.

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While medication can be helpful, it’s also important that you take good care of yourself and understand how to cope with migraine pain when it strikes. Here are some quick relief tips:

  • Turn off the lights
  • Apply a cold compress on your head
  • Try acupressure therapy
  • Massage the muscles in your neck and shoulders

There are also some lifestyle changes you can consider:

  • Establish regular sleep hours and learn to unwind at the end of each day.
  • Be consistent with meal times, keep a food journal, and avoid potential food triggers.
  • Practice stress management strategies to keep daily stress under control.
  • Hormone therapy may help those whose migraines seem to be linked to their menstrual cycle.
  • If you have obesity issues, losing some weight may be helpful.
  • Some individuals notice an improvement with gluten-free diets, but be sure to consult with your GP first.

If you suffer from frequent or severe migraines, you may be prescribed medicines such as triptans for more effective pain relief.

Talk with your health care provider to find out what works best for you.

 

Can Migraines Be Prevented?

One of the best ways to prevent migraine attacks is to first recognize your triggers or trigger combinations.

By keeping a migraine diary, you can learn more about the things that you need to avoid, such as certain foods and medicines. It would also help you figure out what you should do, such as establishing a consistent sleep schedule.

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How Halza Helps

Living with chronic migraine, or the constant worry that a migraine can strike at any moment can take an emotional toll on you.

Stay connected with your loved ones with the Emoji Blast®, and keep track of menstrual cycles with the Period Tracker.

If you’re on medication to treat migraines, make sure you don’t miss a dose by setting a medicine reminder on the Halza app. Schedule health reminders so you’ll always remember to show up to doctor appointments on time.

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Download the Halza app today!

Sources: Healthline, 2NHSNCBI, 2Mayoclinic, 2, 3Migraine.com. 2AMFWHONIHPubMedMedical News Today, 2