By Dr. Sougata Kumar Hui, General Physician
Migraines are a severe form of headache wherein the excruciating pain is accompanied by an extreme sensitivity to sound and light; you also experience nausea. The headaches usually affect either side of the head and are throbbing in nature. Hot flashes, numbness of limbs and blind spots in the eye; these are often considered as warnings. In certain cases, migraines can cause blackouts that can range from a few seconds to a few minutes.
Migraines Occur in Four Stages:
- Pro-drome (symptom indicative of an onset of an illness).
- Aura (visual auras including blurred vision).
- Post-drome (the residual effects of migraine characterized by fatigue and lethargy).
But the occurrence of these stages varies across individuals. The causes of migraines aren’t specifically understood. It may be due to the interaction of the brain stem with the trigeminal nerve which is an important pain pathway of the brain. Imbalances in hormonal levels or in the levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin may also prove to be a causal factor.
Migraines may be triggered due to stress, physical exertion, and excess intake of alcohol or food additives such as MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). Changes in the environment and sleeping patterns may also be probable culprits.
Migraines can be easily distinguished from regular headaches, given the fact that migraines last longer and are rather severe in nature with pain felt in one part of the head. Most people experience the ‘Aura’stage where they have visual flashes right before the headache. Nausea, eye pain or sensitivity to light and sound are other factors helpful in distinguishing migraine from other headaches.
Symptoms can occur a while before the headache, immediately before the headache, during the headache and after the headache. Although not all migraines are the same.
Typical symptoms include:
- Moderate to severe pain, usually confined to one side of the head during an attack, but can occur on either side of the head
- The pain is usually a severe, throbbing, pulsing pain
- Increasing pain during physical activity
- Inability to perform regular activities due to pain
- Feeling sick and physically being sick
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound, relieved by lying quietly in a darkened room
- Some people experience other symptoms such as sweating, temperature changes, tummy ache and diarrhea.
Complications in migraine may include:
- Chronic migraine which lasts up to 15 days or more
- Status migrainosus where the attacks last for over 3 days
- Migrainous infarction where the aura lasts longer than it should, cutting blood supply to the brain.