Today in the United States, a staggering 38 million people suffer from migraines. Of that 38 million, about 5 million experience migraine headaches at least once a month while 2-3 million are chronic. There are studies that suggest that the proportion of Americans who experience migraines stands at around 13%.
91% of people say that when they’re suffering from a migraine attack they can’t work or function as they normally do. It’s not surprising then, that 11 million see their migraines as a debilitating condition to some degree or another. 25% suffer from at least one migraine a week.
These statistics really are shocking and paint a very bleak picture. But what exactly is a migraine?
A migraine is a type of a headache which causes very severe throbbing pain. The pain tends to be localized to one specific side of the head, although it can affect both sides. The pain can be extreme. It is known to cause nausea, vomiting and other side effects which are difficult to cope with. This is especially true for patients who suffer from chronic migraines very regularly. For many women and men, the condition is both physically and mentally exhausting. It can easily lead to depressive episodes too. It’s really not surprising that someone who suffers regularly from migraines would feel extremely depressed. Migraines can get in the way of our careers, our relationships and our social lives.
Because migraines are such a common yet serious condition, it’s very important to become familiar with the symptoms. If you know what to watch out for you’ll stand a better chance of recognizing the symptoms, should you suddenly start experiencing them yourself. Recognising the symptoms is particularly relevant for migraines as opposed to other conditions or illnesses. The proportion of people who suffer from migraines but never receive a migraine diagnosis is very high. Furthermore, it’s believed that approximately 47% of patients believed their migraines to be some other type of a headache before they received their diagnosis.
It goes without saying that if you don’t know what you’re suffering from, it’s very difficult if not impossible to treat it effectively. So let’s go through the symptoms, one by one.
Aura is the term used to describe an unusual visual experience. Migraine sufferers will often experience this during an attack. They may see jagged, bright and moving lines or shapes where there are none. Flickering spots are also a common manifestation. They can be very pretty to look at, but distressing for the patient who knows that what they’re seeing isn’t actually real.
A migraine aura can last for anything between two or three minutes to an hour long. They typically occur just before the migraine strikes. When a patient starts to experience an aura, it’s usually a sign that the pain isn’t far behind. But not always. Some patients can experience the aura without the pain on occasion.
Around 25% of migraine patients experience auras. Scientists think it’s caused by electrical waves flickering across certain parts of the brain, although they’re not very sure. Auras can cause some side effects of their own, including:
It’s not at all uncommon for someone who suffers from migraines to notice major changes to their moods either during an attack or in the build-up to one. These extreme moods can go either way. Some people feel extremely low, depressed, sad and weepy. Others feel energized, restless, even giddy. Some people become uncharacteristically irritable, aggressive and short tempered.
This can be very distressing for patients, but also for the poor unfortunate friends and family members that have to deal with these extreme moods every time a migraine hits. This phase can begin up to 48 hours before an attack. It must be a horrible feeling for the patient who feels their mood suddenly change and know that it means they must now sit and wait for the pain to kick in. For someone who suffers from migraines regularly
For many people who haven’t realized that they suffer from migraines or received a diagnosis yet, it can be very easy to confuse these extreme moods with a mental health problem, such as bipolar disorder. Learn more about bipolar disorder here.
Insomnia is a very common symptom of migraines. It’s impossible to sleep during an actual attack; the pain is just too intense for most people to drift off in. But insomnia can also occur in the days leading up to an attack, or the days following one. For someone who suffers from migraines on a very regular basis, this means that maintaining a healthy sleep routine is next to impossible.
The cruel irony of migraine insomnia is that a lack of sleep can also act as a major trigger in migraines. This means that the lack of sleep typically experienced in the build-up to an attack and in the days following one, makes it even more likely to cause another headache afterward. The patient gets caught up in an endless vicious cycle. Insomnia inhibits their ability to cope with it all as energy levels are very low, and all of this can have a very negative impact on the persons mental health.
One of the reasons why so many people don’t get their migraines diagnosed properly is because the headaches are confused with sinus headaches. This is because some people experience a lot of the symptoms typically associated with sinus headaches during a migraine. It’s assumed that they have a sinus headache and they don’t receive the treatment they need.
Sinus symptoms are very common for migraine headaches. However, They include a runny nose, facial pain, pressure around the sinus areas, teary and puffy eyes and nasal congestion. One study, which was published in 2004, found that 2,991 as suffering from sinus headaches because they displayed sinus symptoms. Unfortunately, this happens a lot with this type of a migraine.
Food cravings are another common symptom of migraine headaches. These are particularly associated with the days leading up to the attack before the pain strikes. A craving for rich, starchy, carbohydrate-heavy foods is very common. Once the pain itself does strike, many patients lose their appetites altogether. So this craving that takes place in the build-up to the attack could be the body’s way of stocking up on fuel before it is unable to eat.
Probably the most obvious of the symptoms, the pain involved in a migraine can be extremely intense. It is certainly one of the worst headache pains there is. The most common places to feel the pain itself is in the temples, or behind one eye or ear. Sometimes the pain can be so bad that patients have to go to their nearest emergency room. Unfortunately, over the counter migraine medications often aren’t strong enough to dull the agony. A trip to the emergency room can be the only option for someone in the grip of a, particularly violent attack.
Some numbness or a tingling sensation in areas of the body is not an uncommon symptom for migraines. However, there is one particular type of a migraine where this is more prevalent. Hemiplegic migraines are quite rare. As the name suggests, this strain of a migraine can cause temporary weakness on one side of the body during an attack. It can feel just like total numbness, or it can be more like the sensation of pins and needles.
There are two different types of hemiplegic migraines; familial and sporadic. The familia kind occur in two or more people within the same immediate family group. Half of all children who have one parent who suffers from familial hemiplegic migraines will inherit the condition. Someone who suffers from sporadic hemiplegic migraines experiences the exact same symptoms, but it has not been passed down to them from a parent. Three genes are thought to be involved in causing hemiplegic migraines, but there is still relatively little understood about them.
The symptoms explained in this article are just some of a very long list of possible symptoms. Other common symptoms include:
If any or a combination of these symptoms sound familiar to you, those headaches that have been annoying you could actually be migraines. Keep a journal of your symptoms, either in a notebook or in the notes app on your smartphone. This is a great way for you to record your experience and establish any patterns over time. This can be enormously helpful to your doctor if he or she tried to diagnose you. In that case, your doctor will discuss the various treatment option with you and go through the precautions you can start to take to try to prevent migraines in the future.