There’s no mistaking a migraine headache — the excruciating head pain, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. The incapacitating attacks can last for hours or days and are sometimes frequent enough to cause moderate or severe disability.
“Fortunately, the list of both acute relief and preventive treatments continues to grow. Although there’s no cure for migraines, usually the right medicines, combined with self-help remedies, work fairly well for many sufferers,” Alan Zacharias, MD, of Associated Neurologists said during a free health lecture held in Erie, Colo.
“Careful joint decision-making with your doctor is needed. Together, you can often find ways to treat your migraine attacks and make them less frequent and severe.”
Migraine is a Chronic Illness
Migraine headaches are considered a chronic illness, although many people don’t think of them that way. More than 30 million Americans, roughly 12 percent of the U.S. population, suffer from this recurrent and often lifelong condition. Three-quarters are women.
The frequency with which migraines occur varies from person to person. They can be rare or strike several times a month. Nearly 5 million sufferers experience at least 1 migraine attack per month, while almost 10 million experience 4 or more per month, which significantly impacts daily living.
According to Dr. Zacharias, migraines usually start in adolescence or early adulthood and tend to become less frequent as we age. “But this is not the case for everyone,” he said.
He described migraines as a neurovascular disorder. “Various neurotransmitters and proteins wreak havoc in the brain causing ‘hypersensitivity’ and pain. But the exact cause of why they occur is not fully understood,” Dr. Zacharias explained.
Migraines have also been linked to genetics. People who get migraines may have genes that control the functions of certain brain cells. “In fact, about 70 to 80 percent of people with migraines have other members in the family who experience them too,” Dr. Zacharias stated.
Symptoms of an Attack
Dr. Zacharias said that during a migraine attack, you may experience:
- Disabling throbbing or pounding head pain that is usually one-sided. The pain usually lasts more than 2 hours, if untreated
- Nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light or sound
- Confusion and irritability