What Are Migraines?

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Migraines are a common health complaint and are usually an intense headache that occurs at the front or side of the head. Many sufferers experience other symptoms like nausea or sensitivity to light. Less commonly they may have an increased need to urinate, abdominal pain with diarrhoea as a result, sweating, poor concentration or a feeling of being too hot or cold. Not everyone experiences these and they usually do not occur at the same time. Some people may not even have a headache, but experience what is known as an €aura' which are a set of warning signs before the attack that include visual problems such as seeing zig zags or spots, problems with co-ordination, difficulty speaking and stiffness or tingling in the limbs. About a third of sufferers get these about 15 minutes to an hour before the onset of a Migraine.
Migraines are thought to be due to chemical changes in the brain, particularly serotonin levels which decrease during a Migraine. The low levels cause the blood vessels in the brain to spasm and contract, which cause the aura and then suddenly widen, causing the headache. Some scientists believe that fluctuating hormone levels are responsible for this, which is indicated in why some women experience Menstrual Migraines which occur 2 to 3 days after the start of their period, possibly due to oestrogen levels changing.
There are many triggers that have been identified in setting off a Migraine which can be environmental, dietary, emotional and as a result of some medicines. Stress, anxiety, inner tension, excitement, poor posture, lack of sleep, neck tension, excessive traveling, low blood sugar, dehydration, alcohol, caffeine, specific foods like chocolate, bright lights, smoke, strong smells, changes in climate such as temperature, and loud noises can all be triggers. Hormone replacement therapy which is used to treat the menopause and sleeping or contraceptive pills are also known triggers.
Migraines are associated with a small increase in risk of stroke and mental health problems. Avoiding triggers is the best way to avoid Migraines, but medications can be prescribed if the headaches persist. Painkillers are easy to purchase and effective for many sufferers. These are best taken as soon as the early signs are noticed. If these are ineffective then triptan medicines may be an option, which help to contract the blood vessels in the lining of the brain, reversing the widening that causes the pain of a Migraine. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can be taken as well as anti-sickness medicines that are used to also treat Migraines as well as sickness. There are combination medicines that work in addition to these, however the doses of separate drugs might not be high enough so they might not effective. It is important to consult a doctor if you are pregnant and looking to treat Migraines as many medications are not suitable for pregnant women.

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