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Symptoms and Causes of Migraine Headaches

Posted May 01 2010 1:21am

The symptoms caused by a migraine headache can be debilitating and create significant impacts on the sufferer and the families quality of life.  A migraine can be triggered at any time and any place.  This puts a strain on the patient and their family members who often need to care for them while taking over other tasks that require attention for the family to function.

symptoms and causes of migraine headaches

Diagnosing a Migraine Headache

A migraine headache is not just simply a headache.  A migraine is characterized by severe and debilitating headaches, nausea and altered bodily perceptions that interfere with your ability to function during an attack.  This is more prevalent in women than in men, but it does occur in men.  These headaches can last from a few hours to 72 hours and although it is rare, they can last longer than 72 hours with less than 4 hours of relief during that time.

There is not specific test that a physician can do to diagnosis a migraine.  Diagnosis is dependent on very careful review of the symptoms and history of the patient.  Many physicians use the mnemonic POUND which stands for the symptoms Pulsating, 3-72 hOurs of duration, Unilateral (one side), Nausea and Disabling, the general rule is that if 4 of these 5 symptoms are met that a diagnosis of migraine headache can be made.

If you believe you are suffering from migraine headaches it is a good idea to begin to keep a headache diary.  Your family can help with this to help possible identify trends that lead to a migraine in your specific case.  Document your symptoms very specifically, what you ate prior to the attack, what occurred during the attack and the duration of the attack.  Your family member can help by documenting what they observe while the headache is present as you will probably not be able to do this. They can also make notes of your activity just prior to the attack to help you remember to expand on it once you are able. Write how you felt as your headache subsided. Be careful to include documentation of the days leading up to the migraine, some triggers do not manifest for several days.  As you do this, you may be able to notice things common to your migraines. This is very beneficial to the physician when trying to make the diagnosis and in helping you to prevent further attacks.

Symptoms of Migraine Headaches

Every symptom is not suffered by each person with a migraine.  You may only be experiencing two or three of the symptoms.  When describing your symptoms to the physician you need to be as precise and accurate as possible; migraines can be easily misdiagnosed.

  • Aura – Only about 10 – 20 % of people who suffer with migraines experience auras.  These can be visual disturbances such as blind spots, tunnel vision, visualizing zigzag patterns or flashes of lights.  They can also be auditory or olfactory such as ringing in the ears or certain smells.
  • Migraines are commonly unilateral, that is they only affect one side of the head.
  • Intense throbbing pain to one side of the head
  • Nausea, with or without vomiting.
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased sensitivity to light known as photophobia
  • Increased sensitivity to smells known as osmophobia
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds known as phonophobia
  • Stiffness or muscle aches in your neck and shoulders
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Numbness or tingling in your extremities
  • Impaired speech
  • Loss of consciousness – rare

Causes of Migraine Headaches

Scientists believe that migraine headaches are caused by changes in blood vessels and neurotransmitters of the brain.  However, what causes the changes in them is still be researched.  Some factors have been identified to trigger attacks in certain people who are susceptible to migraine headache attacks. All people are different and what triggers a migraine in different people various.

  • Stress
  • Relief from stress
  • Allergic reactions
  • Skipping meals, lack of food
  • Eating certain foods, some common foods are those containing caffeine, monosodium glutamate, alcohol or tyramine
  • Fatigue, this can be physical fatigue or mental fatigue
  • Extreme change in emotions such as grief and anger
  • Environmental conditions like flickering lights, bright lights, very loud noises, certain noise pitches and smells like heavy perfumes
  • Sleep pattern changes like those experienced by shift workers or people who have insomnia or sleep late on their days off
  • Hormones, either natural or replacement therapy after menopause, hormonal changes during menstruation or from use of conceptive medications.
  • Excessive physical activity causing extreme physical fatigue
  • Climate changes can trigger migraines, extreme hot or cold temperatures and very strong winds or changes in barometric pressure
  • Tension headaches

Sufferers may have only one trigger or a combination of several triggers for migraine headache attacks.  Once what triggers your migraines is identified you can better control the frequency of attacks by attempting to control the trigger.

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