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Migraine Symptoms and Treatment

Updated on December 31, 2016

A migraine may occur once in a person's life, or three times a week. They may cause a relatively mild head pain, or may totally disable the victim for days on end. Headaches can be caused by spasm of muscles in the scalp, pressure in the sinuses, inflammation of the brain tissue with infection, eye strain and a build-up of pressure within the skull. Migraines are quite distinct from all these other headaches, because they are a condition associated with the arteries of the brain. Migraines are caused by the initial contraction of an artery in the brain, which may give the patient an unusual sensation and warning of an attack, followed within a few seconds or minutes by an over-dilation of the artery.

The size of an artery is controlled by muscles in its wall, and if these muscles totally relax, excess blood passes to the part of the brain that the artery supplies. This section of the brain is then unable to function properly, and the patient feels the intense pressure, pain and other symptoms that occur with a migraine. Usually, only one artery at a time is affected.

The actual effects of a migraine can vary dramatically from one person to another, depending on what part of the brain is involved. As well as the intense head pain, most patients suffer from nausea and vomiting and find that loud noises or bright lights aggravate the pain. Other symptoms that may occur with attacks in different parts of the brain include partial blindness, personality changes, loss of hearing, noises in the ears, paralysis, numbness, and violence.

If you close your eyes, patterns can be seen on the back of the eyelids. These patterns are actually the random activity of the nerves in the light sensitive retina at the back of the eye and in the visual center of the brain. In normal people, a swirling smooth pattern will be seen. If a patient with a migraine closes their eyes, flashes of light and jagged patterns will be seen instead. This test can be used to differentiate migraines from other types of headache, as the eye is an extension of the brain.

Migraines may occur for no apparent reason, or may be triggered by certain foods, anxiety and stress, hormonal changes, allergies, loud noises or flashing lights. The frequency and severity of migraines tend to decrease with age, and an initial attack over the age of 40 is unusual. Many victims find that, as they age, the migraines will suddenly cease for no apparent reason.

Doctors manage migraines by using medications on a regular basis to prevent them, and by giving drugs to control the acute attacks. It is far better to prevent than cure, and unless your migraines are infrequent or mild, you should be taking medication all the time to prevent attacks. There are many different prescription drugs that can be used to prevent migraine, and it is often a matter of trial and error over several months to find the one that suits you best. Common drugs used for prevention include propranolol (Inderal), methysergide (Deseril), clonidine (Dixarit) and pizotifen (Sandomigran). If you persevere, it should be possible to find the correct combination to prevent the vast majority of these disabling attacks.

Once a migraine is present it can be very difficult to cure. Pain-killers become less effective the longer the migraine has been present. The very strong narcotic painkillers should normally be avoided in treating the condition, as it is possible for patients with recurrent attacks to become dependent upon them. Medications taken as soon as the attack occurs to control the over-dilation of the artery causing the migraine (e.g. ergotamine) have a better result, and a supply of these drugs should be carried by all migraine sufferers. Using these tablets, and at the same time resting in a cool, dark room, is probably the best way to deal with the early stage of a migraine. Paracetamol, aspirin, mild sedatives and medication to ease the nausea and vomiting are also useful. If these simple measures are unsuccessful, see your doctor sooner rather than later.

Please Note:

  • The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.

  • The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.

  • Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.

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