Migraine affects almost one billion people worldwide. They are one of the most recurrent severe headaches across the globe, mainly affecting women more than men. Women are, in fact, three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. (1, 2) Migraine headaches sometimes come with sensitivity to light and are accompanied by intense pain. Although women experience migraine headaches more, men can still have severe attacks.
Table of Contents
- What is Migraine?
- Causes and Triggers of Migraines
- Symptoms of Migraines
- The Four Stages of a Migraine
- Treatment for Migraines
What is Migraine?
A migraine is a neurological disease that causes severe, debilitating headaches, along with a variety of other symptoms.
When you experience a migraine, it often comes with a throbbing pain or a pulsing feeling on one or both sides of the head. There are many reasons migraines tend to be more common in women than men. One of the main reasons includes hormonal changes such as menopause, menstruation, pregnancy, and even oral contraceptive use. In the United States, 37 percent of reproductive-age women go through migraine headaches in their lifetime. (3)
Migraines are not only one of the most common conditions in the U.S., but there are many times when migraines get misdiagnosed. Migraines are not only one of the most common conditions in the U.S., but there are many times when migraines get misdiagnosed. Patients and physicians in many countries are still not aware of the severity and frequency that migraines occur. (4, 5) Migraine with aura means that those also suffer from extreme sensitivity to light, such as flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or even seizures.
The prevalence of migraines tends to measure around two to 21 percent, but some studies suggest that number is much closer to 48 percent. Inaccurate findings may be due to mistaken diagnoses from non-neurologists. (6) More research is necessary to determine the proper genetic influence and biomarkers of migraine headaches. It is vital to understand that migraines are not simply headaches. They can be debilitating for many, affecting the ability to perform simple day-to-day tasks.
Luckily, there are many treatment options and even ways to prevent migraines. Unfortunately, many who suffer take Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen several times a day to help with the pain, but that may not be the best option. Consuming these types of drugs frequently can wreak havoc on the digestive system, and there was even a recent extra warning by the FDA for the increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. (7) That is true for people with or without genetic risk factors.
Causes and Triggers of Migraines
Read on to learn more about alternative treatments for migraines, prevention methods, causes, and symptoms below.
There are many reasons migraine headaches could be affecting you, and every one is unique in the intricacies their body goes through. See if any of the reasons below sound plausible for you or your family’s migraine reprieve.
Many times hormonal imbalances go undetected because they are not always extremely obvious. Sometimes further testing is necessary to determine an underlying issue. Outside factors like stress, food, and imbalances like estrogen dominance can often trigger migraines. Estrogen and progesterone (female sex hormones) can fluctuate frequently in women at any point in their lives, but even more so during menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and even when on oral contraceptives. Those who suffer from migraines with aura may be at an increased risk of other common health complications when taking oral contraceptives as well. These health complications include heart disease, ischemic stroke, and vascular mortality. (8)Progesterone and estrogen affect brain chemistry, too, so those with aura migraines may need to take extra precautions with oral contraceptives. Migraines after a few days of menstruation are common in women, but they can happen at any point in the cycle. Balancing hormones may be a complex process, as it is different for everyone and many organs are involved. Hormones run through many organ systems like the gut, adrenal glands, liver, and more. Migraines are not always because of hormonal imbalances, but it is a common occurrence.
Stress is a normal and even healthy part of life, but unmanaged stress can bring about many potential health issues. Hormones are deeply intertwined with the main stress hormone, cortisol. Short-term stress is necessary for safety and may manifest as neck tension or even a migraine. Long-term stress, psychological stress, or chronic stress is typically caused by everyday life events that cause anxiety, or pressure of some kind. The body is unable to handle chronic stress over long periods, and many are sometimes unaware they are even in a chronic stress state. High-stress states may cause inflammation throughout the body leading to exhaustion or toxicity, all of which may set off a migraine. (9) Toxins from unmanaged chronic stress build up in the body and may come out in the form of a migraine.
Much like hormonal imbalances, an underactive or overactive thyroid may also lead to migraine headaches. Low and high thyroid numbers may cause headaches. Thyroid imbalances or diseases are common, affecting nearly 20 million Americans in the United States. And, many thyroid imbalances go undetected as well. Other symptoms of thyroid issues may also include a rapid heart rate, dry skin, hair loss, and weight management issues. Be sure to get a full blood workup if you suffer from all of these symptoms or even just a few. Your doctor can help you determine the best treatment option for your unique circumstance.
Certain Foods, Drinks, and even Additives
Food and drinks can often go overlooked as a potential cause of a migraine, but they are often a common culprit. Determining what food works for you is a great way to determine what foods may be a trigger of migraine. One study shows that food restriction-based IgG antibodies may be an effective method to preventing migraines. (10) IgG antibodies are like a food panel that allows you to see what foods may be an inflammatory trigger for you. Believe it or not, many food-induced migraine attacks occur regularly. Typical food culprits include gluten, refined sugar, alcohol, soy, dairy, or caffeine. Other foods and additives that may cause migraine triggers to include food additives like artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, chocolate, MSG-containing foods, aged cheese, cured meats, and salty foods or processed foods.
Many people may be deficient in micronutrients, which are necessary for overall health and well-being to decrease inflammation and lower the chances of disease or conditions like migraines. One common micronutrient that many are deficient in is magnesium. Magnesium is necessary for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, and it is essential for bone, heart, and brain health, to name a few. Magnesium is the original relaxation mineral that once was abundant in the earth’s soil. However, soil production, pesticides, and toxins over the years have depleted vital nutrients from the soil, including magnesium, making it difficult to get enough from food alone. Other signs of low magnesium can include muscle aches, anxiety, fatigue, nausea, tingling, and more. Those who suffer from migraines may be more likely to be deficient in this nutrient. (12)
Other nutrients that may make migraines worse or cause them are a lack of vitamin D and vitamin B2 or Riboflavin. To properly digest and absorb vitamin D, magnesium and K2 are necessary as well. Essential B vitamins are vital to maintain proper nerve functioning and lessen the occurrence of inflammation throughout the body. Supplementing with the proper amount of vitamin D, magnesium, or B2 as recommended by a doctor may be a safe and effective method for those with migraines. (13)
Sleep is sometimes arguably more important or equally so than a healthy diet and exercise. Interruptions in sleep may sometimes trigger migraines as well. Sleep disturbances such as insomnia or even sleeping too much may trigger migraines or it can make existing migraines worse. In one study, the number of sleep participants got directly contributed to the frequency of their migraines. (11) Sleep issues may also be closely related to deeper issues mentioned above, such as thyroid or hormonal imbalances that may go overlooked.
Those who already suffer from migraines may also be sensitive to changes in the weather, more specifically the temperature and humidity levels. In some cases, higher temperatures may mean more migraine visits to the hospital than lower temperature days, according to one study in the National Institutes of Health. (14)
Oral contraceptives may be a culprit for migraine triggers, along with vasodilators medications. Vasodilators are usually prescribed to treat high blood pressure. Always be cautious with the type of medication you are on, and be sure it is not making any current symptoms worse.
Symptoms of Migraines
Migraine headaches are different from other types of headaches in that they are typically much more severe, painful, and bothersome when doing everyday tasks. They can occur every 10 seconds, someone in the United States develops a migraine so severe that they need to go to the Emergency Room. Some people even suffer from severe migraines daily. A typical migraine can last anywhere from four to 72 hours long. Migraines may complicate social or family lives in their severity and length. Children can also get migraines, affecting nearly 10 percent of school-age children.
Some symptoms of migraines include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
- Numbness in the face or hands/feet
- Sensitivity to touch or smell
- Affected vision, also known as migraine aura
- Pain in the face or neck
- Distorted vision
- Scalp tenderness
- Nasal congestion
Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound are the most common symptoms of migraines. Pain from migraines can be acute, throbbing, or dull, and everyone experiences pain levels based on their unique circumstances. Sometimes a sinus headache or a tension headache is a migraine and not diagnosed. Tension headaches usually do not require a doctor’s intervention, although migraine sufferers will often need assistance. Migraines can be a complex mix of causes, and understanding the stages can be helpful when determining the cause of your migraine.
The Four Stages of a Migraine
There are four separate stages of a migraine, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. When experiencing this neurological disease, it is helpful to know what to look out for at each stage. Migraines affect many ages, accounting for millions of people in the United States.
Certain health changes that may seem unrelated can come up before the actual migraine happens. These can include constipation, mood changes such as depression, neck stiffness, food cravings, increased thirst or urination.
Aura can happen during migraines, but it can also occur before one takes place. The most common type of aura is when you see a light that affects your vision, but there are many other types of aura. An Aura can come on subtly but last around 20 minutes, usually gradually getting worse.
Types of Aura can include:
- Pins and needles sensation usually in the arms or legs
- Difficulty speaking
- Vision loss or seeing a visual like bright spots, shapes, or flashes of light
- Weakness or numbness in the face
- Hearing Noises
That stage is when the actual migraine takes place, and it can include any of the symptoms listed above. They can range from four to 72 hours long and vary in severity per attack and person. Always be sure to keep a record of how you feel throughout the stages of a migraine so a doctor can help assess the best next steps for you.
Some people report feeling drained after a migraine attack for a day or so. Others may even feel a sense of extreme happiness from the relief. Confusion is also another common occurrence after and migraine headache.
Treatment for Migraines
More research is necessary to gather treatment options for migraines. There is no patented migraine prevention available, but treatments can make them much more manageable and even reduce the number of attacks. Treatment methods, like migraines, vary depending on the person, medical history, and case.
There are four current migraine treatment options, including:
- Preventive treatment by medication: That can include pain-relieving medicine to change the pressure on the blood vessels.
- Avoiding triggers: As mentioned above, triggers can be far and wide, so determining what yours may be can help treat migraines. It can also be a combination of triggers.
- Alternative therapies: Some alternative therapies include relaxation techniques to help lower stress in the body, such as yoga, breathwork, meditation, exclusion diets, herbal remedies, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and more
- Daily medication: These include daily medicine to avoid future attacks.
Always take charge of your health and know when to ask for help from a trusted healthcare professional. There are some things to look out for when determining if you are getting migraines or if you need to seek alternative treatment.
If you suddenly feel any of these happening, seek medical attention:
- Migraines are happening more frequently
- They are more debilitating or severe
- They interfere with your everyday life, such as a job or home life
- They do not improve with over-the-counter medication
- Symptoms get worse when you move or even just cough
Migraines are a type of neurological disease that affects one billion people globally. From children to adults, men and women, many people can suffer from migraines in their lifetime. Although children and men can get migraines, they are much more common to appear in women.
The causes of migraines are different for everyone. They can range from food and drink to weather changes, hormonal imbalances, too much stress or chronic stress, and much more. They can also often be a combination of triggers. Everyone is different with the severity of their migraines, how long they last, and how frequently they occur.
If you have any symptoms or signs of a migraine, be sure to seek out a doctor or trusted healthcare professional to learn about your treatment options. Functional medicine treatment can be an effective solution, should traditional medication not be an option for you. It’s helpful to keep a record of your migraine attacks, when, and how they happened for you and your doctor. Seeking the help of a neurologist, a general doctor, or even alternative therapies can help discover what works best for you.