Most of us have experienced a common headache. These are officially referred to as tension headaches where your symptoms can include pain and tightening in the neck, shoulders, and back or sides of the head.
But when symptoms are more severe, it tends to be categorized as a migraine attack. Those who often experience these symptoms will know how debilitating they can be. For those that experience them regularly, they can significantly impact your quality of life.
If you suffer from these kinds of episodes, read on to find out more about how to treat them and also how to prevent this pain from occurring.
What is a Migraine Attack?
An episode of this nature usually has four to five stages with recognized symptoms which can last for different amounts of time and with varying severities. Being able to identify these may help manage the pain and prevent them from reoccurring.
- Premonitory or warning phase
- Aura (not always present)
- The headache or main stage
- Resolution of the headache
- Recovery (or postdrome) stage
The condition often comes hand in hand with sensitivity to your bodily senses, like sound, light, and touch. The person experiencing it may also feel physically nauseous and vomit.
Rather than a general pain feeling across the shoulders, neck or head, the pain tends to concentrate on one side of a head or feel like pressure behind the eyes. Within this umbrella term of migraine attacks are two main types:
An aura means the sufferer experiences neurological problems, too. This can be dizziness, blind spots, or blurred vision for example. Tingling of the arms or legs is also occasionally felt. Sometimes, this symptom can act as a warning sign before the pain occurs.
The majority of people who suffer from this condition will experience this and the pain can occur without notice. Typically, the pain is focused on one side of the head characterized by pulsing or throbbing. This usually gets worse when exercising or raising your heart rate in some way.
Further to these two umbrella types, there are many more other types which are more specific with their causes and symptoms. They also tend to last different amounts of time. These include:
- Chronic: When headaches are experienced over more than 15 days of a month
- Brainstem aura: An aura type with speech problems, vertigo, ear ringing or sound sensitivity
- Hemiplegic migraine: The term used when the sufferer experiences an aura with temporary paralysis on one side. It is best to have this checked by a medical professional in case it actually could be a brain malfunction
- Menstrual: These can happen in women 2 to 3 days before and after a period and is usually without aura.
- Ocular: Confusingly, these can occur without pain and is sometimes called a ‘silent visual migraine’. This is when the pre-emptive aura symptoms arrive, but without the episode.
Depending on whether it is with or without an aura, the effects felt can differ between people. Often symptoms of a severe migraine attack include one or more of the following:
- Severe head pain that is focused on the sides of the head or behind the eyes.
- Visual disturbances
- Sensitivity to light and sound or touch
- Visual disturbance or blurred vision
- A feeling of pressure
- Pain behind the eyes
- Tingling sensation
Recognizing the appearance earlier can enable the treatment of symptoms to be applied sooner and prevent the remaining stages of the condition from progressing. The start of this condition can be indicated with neurological symptoms and recognizing this can help treat it more effectively.
Simply lying down in a quiet and dim room or getting some much-needed sleep or something to eat may be enough to relieve your symptoms. But if this doesn’t help and stronger action is required to relieve the pain, consider the below options which range from standard medications to more alternative methods.
Take note that, if you experience a migraine attack which lasts for more than 72 hours, it is considered to be a status migrainosus. It is best to seek medical help to relieve the pain in this case.
The first port of call for most sufferers of common headaches and a more severe migraine attack is often standard over the counter painkillers. As you know, these can help ease the pain when used appropriately. Common painkillers available include:
These should be taken as soon as you realize that the onset of the condition is happening, as they can take a bit of time to be effectively
If these are not effective at relieving pain, or you notice that you do rely on over the counter medication more than twice a week, you should talk to your doctor.
One of the common prescriptions is a medication called Triptan, which works by reversing the widening of blood vessels that causes headaches.
Please remember all drugs have potential side effects which should be understood before taking them.
Feverfew, a plant from the daisy family, has been known to help headaches in holistic medicine. It comes in various formats including capsules and teas.
Some people use essential oils such as peppermint to soothe the temples and forehead too.
Additionally, applying a cold or warm flannel or ice pack has been known to ease a migraine attack in some patients.
Due to this painful condition being related to tension and muscle soreness, some people that suffer claim to benefit from massage therapy.
The releasing of stress in the neck and shoulders can relieve pressure put on your blood vessels as well.
Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese method of inserting tiny needles into pressure points of the body. This alternative method can relieve tension in these areas and rebalance energy levels.
Of course, treatment should be conducted by a registered practitioner.
When injected, Botox inhibits chemicals such as acetylcholine which causes symptoms of migraines and subsequently stops the pain and pulsing sensation. Essentially Botox prevents the nerves from sending pain messages to the brain.
How to Prevent An Episode From Occurring
Triggers vary for each person and often include not getting enough sleep or being dehydrated. There are a lot of possible causes for a migraine attack as well; hormonal changes, stress, and even the weather can cause these symptoms. Similarly, food which is high in nitrates and drinks with high levels of caffeine or alcohol can bring on an episode.
Recently, an association has been made between migraines and panic attacks. People with anxiety disorders who experience these often note that they suffer from frequent headaches as well.
These symptoms define a headache experienced immediately after a panic induced episode, possibly brought on by high stress. If you suffer from anxiety and similar symptoms, treating this may help prevent the onset of headaches as a side effect in the future.
If your occupation requires you to be screen bound a lot of the time, you may find that you require glasses or an increased prescription. Strain from reading or using computer screens can often cause headaches, therefore it is a good idea to check in with your optician to see if this may be an issue for you.
Keep A Diary
By recording relevant information in a headache diary, you can work out how often you experience the condition and what your individual symptoms are.
If you notice certain triggers or patterns either coincidentally or from using a diary, be sure to take these into account. You may need simply need to make some basic lifestyle changes such as drink more water, get more sleep each night, or limit those cups of coffee to see a reduction in the frequency or severity of your episodes.
You can also share the recorded information with your physician to establish the best treatment plan.