When I am consulting with patients, one question I always ask is if they have any problems with headaches. One of the most common responses I get from this question is “I get a migraine every so often.” I have quickly learned that most people really do not know what a migraine headache actually is, they just associate a bad headache with a migraine.
True migraine headaches are separated into two categories, classic migraines and common migraines.
Common migraine make up about 80% of all migraine headaches. All migraines start with a prodrome. The prodrome usually occurs one or two days prior to the actual headache. This period is usually described as a feeling of impending doom in which the person can tell that they will be suffering from a headache soon. The prodrome period is usually associated with depression, irritability, neck stiffness and sometimes food cravings.
Although symptoms of a migraine headache can vary greatly from person to person, there are a few ways to distinguish migraine symptoms from other types of headaches. Migraines usually are described as either pulsating or throbbing in quality and can be on either one or both sides of the head.
During a headache, migraine sufferers complain of extreme light sensitivity, and sometimes also have a sensitivity to sounds and smells. Routinely, when experiencing a migraine, patients will feel the need to lay down in a dark, quiet room to avoid any light or sound.
True migraines are also associated with nausea and vomiting.
Other common symptoms of a migraine include blurred vision and light-headedness that can lead to fainting. The length of a migraine can differ from person to person, or by episode, but they generally last between four and seventy two hours.
The final phase of a migraine is known as the postdrome. This is the period after the headache has stopped. This period is usually characterized by a feeling of exhaustion. Although rare, some people report experiencing mild euphoria during this time.
The symptoms above characterize all migraine headaches, whether they are classic or common migraines.
Classic migraines are differentiated from common migraines by an aura. The aura gradually builds prior to the attack of a migraine and generally lasts for about an hour. An aura is a nervous system disturbance most commonly associated with visual disturbances. This can include seeing various shapes, flashes of light and sometimes loss of vision. Less commonly, an aura can include numbness or tingling in the arms or legs or problems with speech.
Although the cause of migraines headaches is not exactly known, most believe that they are most likely caused by changes in blood flow to the brain, or by nerve interference. Chiropractic care has shown to help relieve migraine headaches, this may be related to relieving pressure from the nerves that start in the upper cervical spine and travel around the back of the head to the forehead.
Now that we have discussed what distinguishes a migraine headache, do you think you still suffer from migraines?
If your headaches are not accompanied by the symptoms discussed above, you probably get a different type of headache other than a migraine. In my next blog post, I will discuss other types of headaches and their associated symptoms.