Migraines: What are they and How to Prevent Them

Probably on a weekly basis, if not a little more, our office will receive a call from someone having flashes of light with vision loss. Because flashes and vision loss can be a serious emergency, we always bring patients in the same day for a dilated eye exam.  Upon work up, our patients will tell us the flashes may look like strobe lights, zig-zags, or what looks like a sparkling rainbow.  The vision loss starts out small and then progressively increases in size.  It may last anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour, sometimes longer, before dissipating.  When asked if a headache followed, a handful of patients will tell us no, while others may say yes.  These are classic symptoms of a migraine.

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What are Migraines?

For many years, researchers thought migraines were caused by the dilation and constriction of the blood vessels in the head, but now researchers believe that migraines are a neurological disorder between the nerve pathways and brain chemicals.

Migraines are recurring headaches that typically occur on one side of the head, but 1/3 of migraines can affect both sides of the head. Attacks can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. The migraine may include prodrome (an early symptom indicating the onset of a disease or illness) and postdrome symptoms (symptoms that have occurred after the condition has passed).  There are 4 stages to migraines.

  • Prodrome signs and symptoms may include food cravings, mood changes, uncontrollable yawning, or frequent urination.
  • As discussed before, people will sometimes see flashing lights or zig zags in their vision. They may have temporary vision loss that will disappear. This is referred to as an aura. Auras can often happen before or during a migraine. However, just because you have an aura does not mean you will experience a headache. This is referred to as an ocular migraine.
  • Besides experiencing a headache, people may also have nausea, vomiting, extreme sensitivity to light and/or sound, sensitivity to smells or temperature, or increased pain when you move, cough, or sneeze.
  • With postdrome symptoms, some people may feel weak, sluggish, confused, dehydrated, or may have a residual headache the next day. This is referred to as a “hangover” migraine.

What Can You Do To Avoid and Trigger a Migraine?

  • Find out what your triggers are. Make a list of foods or drinks that could be a factor. Once, I got a migraine from zested lemon peel. Yes, lemon peel.
  • Eat regular meals– do not skip them. Drink lots of water.
  • Make sure you keep up with your normal amount of sleep.
  • Keep stress to a minimum. Side note: If anyone figures out how to do this, let me know.
  • Keep up your energy level.
  • If migraines are triggered by the pollen, consider taking an over-the-counter allergy medication weeks before allergy season starts.

How to Treat a Migraine

  • Put a cool washcloth or icepack on the back of your neck or the front of your head.
  • Lie down in a dark, quiet, cool room, and close your eyes.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications can help alleviate the headache. However, if the headache is severe, seek attention with your primary care physician, as he/she may be able to prescribe a medication specifically designed for migraine treatment.
  • Rub peppermint oil on the back of your neck and temples.
  • Ginger Ale or Ginger tea may help ease a migraine, as well as cut down on any nausea or upset stomach you may have along with it.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for migraines.

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Posted in: Migraines

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