Think that persistent, throbbing ache is just in your head? Think again. Though everyone gets the occasional headache, it is estimated that about 30 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches.
Migraines are a neurological disorder in which a person suffers recurrent moderate to severe headaches that worsen during routine physical activity. Migraines can last from four hours to three or more days when left untreated. Though anyone can suffer from migraines, they are most common between the ages of 30 and 60, and women are three times as likely to get them than men.
Often, migraines will present on one side of the head and may be exacerbated by light, sound, or strong scents, leading to nausea. Those who suffer migraines are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disorders, and other pain disorders. Migraine headaches are a heavy burden. They are estimated to cost Americans more than $20 billion annually in medical costs and missed work and productivity, causing the World Health Organization to declare them one of the 20 most disabling illnesses.
What Causes Migraines?
Exact causes of migraines are not currently known, but research has shown that they are affected by changes in serotonin levels in the brain and that they are largely hereditary. Most people who suffer from migraines have a family history of the disorder. If one parent suffers from migraines, his or her child has a 50 percent chance of developing them as well; if both parents suffer from migraines, the child’s risk is bumped to 75 percent.
What Triggers a Migraine?
Though there is not always a clear trigger for migraines, emotional stress, hormonal fluctuations, changes in weather, menstruation, sensitivity to chemicals and food preservatives, poor sleep, medication, alcohol, and excessive caffeine consumption or withdrawal are all common triggers. A small number of people who suffer from migraines experience auras or sensory changes that occur, before, during, or after migraine. Most auras are visual, and include blurred vision, flashing lights, and blind spots, but can also be accompanied by motor or verbal disturbances.
Do I Need to See a Specialist?
If you experience chronic migraines, start having new headache symptoms, or your migraines are not responding to treatment, your doctor may recommend that you see a specialist. Keeping a headache journal or calendar can help you and your doctor find causes and triggers for your migraines and can help provide possible solutions.
Take Note of the Following:
- Did anything soothe or eliminate your headache?
- Did you sleep well the night before?
- During what part of your menstrual cycle did it occur?
- Did light, sound or scents make it worse?
- What did you eat and drink during the 24 hours prior to the onset of symptoms?
- What were you doing prior to or during the headache?
Do You Need Help Finding a Primary Care Doctor?
Call UPMC Susquehanna 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 570-321-1000, or visit UPMCSusquehanna.org.