Migraines cause severe throbbing in the head, sensitivity to light, sounds or smells, and are brutally painful. Researchers don’t agree on the number of Americans who suffer from migraines, but official numbers range from 16.2 percent to 22.7 percent. Dr. Wade Cooper, director of the University of Michigan Headache and Neuropathic Pain Clinic, explained that they’re a lot more common than you think.
“If you’ve ever had too much to drink, you usually prefer to have sunglasses and have the sound down low if you have a throbbing headache,” said Cooper. “An alcohol induced headache — what we call a hangover headache — that, by definition, is migraine."
While there are more complex ways to categorize and define different headaches, in Cooper’s experience, almost all headaches he treats fall into two major buckets: migraines or tension headaches.
Adding to the confusion, tension-type headaches can be caused by the same things that trigger migraines, such as sore muscles, a poor sleep schedule and and stress. For these types of headaches, mild pain relievers are usually enough to counteract the effects.
But when that mild pain develops into moderate or severe pain, we cross over into migraine territory, explained Cooper. In addition to the pain in your head, you could also feel nauseated, or be sensitive to light, sounds and smells.
Migraines happen when an over-sensitized brain becomes too stimulated. They can be triggered by a whole host of environmental factors, and for those who suffer from frequent migraines, the sooner you can figure out your triggers, the sooner can begin coming up with a plan to avoid them, said Cooper. That often means consulting with a doctor, but it could also mean being more intentional about your sleep, consulting with therapists about any anxiety issues or paying very close attention to your diet.
In the mean time, here’s a list of the most common reasons you have a splitting headache right now.
If you suspect that you suffer from recurring migraines, read on to learn more about the escalating treatments Cooper recommended and talk about them with your doctor.
1. Identify triggers and then avoid them.
This could mean staying away from any foods marked “low fat,” “diet” or “light,” as they’re more likely to contain artificial sweeteners, said Cooper. It could mean checking the ingredients of your medication to see if there are certain ingredients like caffeine you didn’t know about. For women, monitoring your menstrual cycle could help you see if migraines are more common during your period.
2. Regulate stress and sleep.
Patients at Cooper’s clinic have the choice to see a pain psychologist or to get coaching on how to de-stress. There are also physical therapists on hand to help massage stress away from the head, neck and shoulders.
3. Ask about vitamin supplements
Cooper’s clinic supports using vitamins and supplements to prevent migraine headaches, especially magnesium.
4. Get prescription medication
Some medicine is daily, while some is only meant for before a triggering activity. For example, if sexual arousal or sexual climax tends to trigger a migraine, there’s a pill you can pop before you do the deed, said Cooper. Alternately, you could be even stricter about a healthy diet and regular sleep schedule in order to remove other triggers that could heighten risk for a migraine during sex.
5. Consider surgical procedures
One new treatment involvese inserting a tiny catheter into the nostril to fill with an anesthetic called lidocaine, which can prevent headache from weeks to months.
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