Published December 07, 2011
Approximately 29 million Americans suffer from migraines, and the effects can be debilitating. Hours — or even days — can be spent waiting for severe symptoms to disappear, including pounding headaches, nausea and vomiting. Certain measures can be taken to prevent and treat migraines, but their effectiveness can vary greatly from person to person. Although there is no single cure, understanding how best to prevent and treat a migraine is essential to reducing its effects.
Migraines occur when blood vessels along your temple begin to enlarge, and the nerve fibers coiled around these vessels begin releasing chemicals. These chemicals can trigger pain, inflammation and further expansion of the blood vessels, causing them to press on nearby nerves. Migraines are often caused by certain identifiable triggers that tend to differ from person to person. Some common triggers include stress, bright lights or loud noises, allergic reactions, smoking and menstruation.
Migraines are most common among people between the ages of 15 and 55, and generally decline in frequency and severity with age. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, women are about three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.
Your first step should be to identify any potential triggers that cause migraines. If you notice that smoking, alcohol or certain foods tend to prompt symptoms — avoid them. Performing some kind of aerobic exercise regularly is a good way to relieve stress – a major contributor to migraines. Women who find that estrogen tends to trigger migraines may also wish to manage their estrogen intake and speak to a doctor about replacing medication such as birth control or hormone replacements.
Migraines cause intense and throbbing pain in a single area of the head. Other symptoms include light and sound sensitivity, nausea and even vomiting. These headaches can be preceded by sensory warnings like the appearance of bright spots or flashes of light, vision loss, confusing thoughts or tingling in the arms and legs. Mostly, however, there will be no warning signs preceding a migraine.
Some individuals can sense the onset of a migraine hours, or even days, before it happens by a boost in energy, sugar cravings, or feelings of drowsiness and depression.
While it’s likely that medication won’t succeed in completely eradicating your migraines, it can help to reduce the frequency and intensity of a migraine. There are two main strategies to treating migraines. Preventative drugs are generally prescribed to individuals whose migraines occur most frequently. High blood pressure medications like beta-blockers or antidepressants can be taken regularly to help alleviate symptoms when migraines do occur. Other drugs aim to stop migraines once they begin. Pills, nasal sprays or injections can be administered as soon as symptoms or sensory warnings appear to help relieve pain and stop them from developing further.