What is a migraine headache?
A migraine is a strong headache that often comes with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. It can last hours or days. Migraine symptoms are different for everyone. In many people, they happen in stages. These stages may include:
Prodrome: Hours or days before a headache about 60% of people who have migraines notice symptoms like being sensitive to light, sound, or smell, fatigue, food cravings or lack of appetite, mood changes, severe thirst, bloating, constipation or diarrhea.
Aura: These symptoms stem from the nervous system and often involve the vision. They usually start gradually, over a 5 to 20-minute period, and last less than an hour. Some people may see black dots, wavy lines, flashes of light, or things that are not there (hallucinations). They may experience tingling or numbness on one side of the body, a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, ringing in the ears, or changes in the sense of smell, taste, or touch.
Attack: a migraine headache often begins as a dull ache and grows into throbbing pain. It usually gets worse during physical activity. The pain can move from one side of the head to the other, can be felt in the front of the head, or can feel like it is affecting the entire head. Some people have nausea along with a headache or they may vomit. Most migraine headaches last about four hours, but severe ones can go for more than three days. It is common to get two to four headaches per month, however, some people may get migraine headaches every few days, while others might only experience them once or twice a year.
Postdrome: This stage can last up to a day after a headache. Symptoms may include feeling tired, wiped out, or cranky, feeling unusually refreshed or happy, muscle pain or weakness, food cravings, or lack of appetite.
What causes a migraine?
While the exact cause of migraine headache is unknown, it is thought to be related to changes in the brain with a genetic component. For example, parents can pass down migraine triggers like fatigue, bright lights, or weather changes to their children.
Current thinking is that a migraine likely starts when overactive nerve cells send out signals that trigger the trigeminal nerve, which gives sensation to the head and face. This cues the body to release chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.
Women are three times more likely than men to experience migraine headaches. Family history is also a risk factor; a child with one parent with migraine headaches has a 50% chance of getting them, and having two parents with a history of migraines increases the risk to 75%. Finally, other conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and epilepsy are associated with an increased risk of developing migraines.
Those who are prone to migraine headaches, often identify specific triggers for the onset of pain. Some common triggers include hormonal changes and stress. Foods like cheese, alcohol, or additives may be responsible in some people. Skipping meals, getting too much caffeine or not getting enough caffeine can cause headaches. Changes in the weather, loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, medications, physical activity, tobacco, not enough or too much sleep can also be triggers for some.
There is no cure for migraine headache yet. Typical over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen are often not enough to provide migraine relief.
Natural remedies and alternative treatments
Some people try to prevent headaches through lifestyle changes like easing stress, good sleep habits, and avoiding triggers. For relief from pain, resting with eyes closed in a quiet dark room, drinking plenty of liquids, or putting a cool compress or ice pack on the forehead may help.
Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture
Clinical trials have found that acupuncture is at least as effective as prophylactic drug therapy for the prevention of migraine headaches, and is safe, long-lasting and cost-effective. Acupuncture reduces the frequency of headaches and is well tolerated. Acupuncture should be considered a treatment option for patients who suffer from migraines and have not seen the desired reduction in the frequency of headaches in response to prescribed medications.
At Gathered Roots, we provide a safe and effective treatment for your migraine headaches. We recommend weekly treatment for up to 10-12 sessions. This is considered one course of treatment for the prevention of migraine headaches.