At some point in their lives, 12 to 28 percent of people will be experience migraines, according to the European Journal of Neurology. What's more, in any given year, this common neurological disease will affect 6 to 15 percent of adult men, 14 to 35 percent of adult women, and approximately 4 to 5 percent of children under 12.
Spotting the Symptoms
Despite its prevalence, experts note that migraine is often misunderstood by sufferers, the general population, and even the medical community. Far from simply a severe headache, migraine is a larger neurological disease that can cause a range of symptoms during an attack, including fatigue, mood swings, food cravings, muscle stiffness, frequent urination, and loss of appetite.
The classic symptom, of course, is a headache, but it's important to note that a migraine headache is different from a common tension headache. With migraines, headaches can be severe enough to send the sufferer (also known as a migraineur) to a dark, quiet room until the pain subsides, which can take from a few hours to several days. These headaches may also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sweating, blurred vision, or visual aura (light spots). After an attack, the sufferer may experience fatigue, irritability, lightheadedness, malaise, or difficulty concentrating.
Avoiding the Triggers
According to experts, there are a number of triggers that, on exposure or withdrawal, may encourage migraine attacks in some people. Some of the most common triggers include:
- Allergic reactions
- Bright lights or loud noises
- Some odors or perfumes
- Physical or emotional stress
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Smoking or exposure to smoke
- Skipping meals
- Alcohol or caffeine
- Menstrual-cycle fluctuations or birth control pills
- Tension headaches
- Foods containing tyramine (such as red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and some beans), monosodium glutamate (MSG), or nitrates (like bacon, hot dogs, and salami)
- Other foods, such as chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, banana, citrus, onions, dairy products, and fermented or pickled foods.
As with any medical condition, it's important that you talk to your doctor about your symptoms. He or she can help you devise a treatment plan based on the frequency and severity of your attacks, the degree of disability your symptoms cause, and your medical history.
After a migraine diagnosis, the two most common methods of treatment are pain-relieving medications and preventive medications. Pain-relieving medications are taken during migraine attacks and are designed to stop symptoms that have already begun. Preventive medications are useful in reducing the frequency, severity, and length of migraine episodes and may be taken on a daily basis.
In addition, experts recommend the following self-care tips to help manage migraines:
- Keep a headache diary. Note when headaches begin, how long they last, and what, if anything, provides relief. Keep track of any foods that may be a migraine trigger.
- Try muscle-relaxation exercises. Progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga don't require any equipment. Try to spend at least 30 minutes each day doing something relaxing, such as listening to music, gardening, or reading.
- Get enough sleep, but don't oversleep. Most adults are at their best after seven to nine hours of sleep.
- Rest and relax. Rest in a dark, quiet room when you feel an attack coming on. Place an ice pack wrapped in a cloth on the back of your neck, and apply gentle pressure to painful areas on your scalp.
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