How To Help Someone With A Migraine
“Migraines are incapacitating headaches that usually occur on one side of the head, but they can spread to both sides as well. They’re more common in women than men — about two-thirds of migraine sufferers are female. The average age for onset is between 12 and 35 years old, though some people suffer from migraines into their 50s and 60s. People with migraines describe them as throbbing, pounding headaches accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to smell or taste, and visual disturbances such as flashing lights, zigzag lines, dark spots before the eyes, dizziness and sensitivity to noise. In severe cases, migraines can cause seizures, temporary blindness, numbness, tingling sensations, chest pain, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, difficulty speaking, sweating, fainting, disorientation, confusion, fatigue, irritability, depression, mood swings, sleep disturbance, memory loss, and even coma.
Most people who have migraines also experience aura symptoms — milder versions of headache pain that precede the full blown migraine attack. These include:
vivid colors (reds and greens)
swelling of the veins in the temple area
weakness or trembling
While these symptoms don’t indicate any specific underlying medical problem, doctors believe that the aura phase may be caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This theory suggests that the medications used to treat migraines may work because they interrupt this abnormal electrical charge.
The exact causes of migraines aren’t known, but there are several theories regarding possible triggers. Some suggest that hormonal fluctuations during certain times of the month play a role; others point to stress, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, changes in blood pressure level, food allergies, low levels of vitamin B2, deficiency of magnesium or calcium, low cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and hormone replacement therapy after menopause. It’s thought that when you get older, you are more likely to develop migraines, possibly due to structural differences in the brain.
Unfortunately, no cure exists for migraines, so treatment centers around relieving the symptoms until the person feels better. Medications used to treat migraines fall under three categories: analgesics, anticonvulsants and antimigraine drugs. Analgesics relieve the overall intensity of the migraine while reducing the duration of pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, reduce inflammation and swelling, which leads to less discomfort. Beta blockers, tricyclic antidepressants and calcium channel blockers help control the effects of spasms in the vessels that supply oxygen to the brain. Anticonvulsant drugs reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures. Drugs used to prevent migraines include ergotamines, barbiturates, methysergide, baclofen and metoclopramide. Ergotamine tartrate works best if taken within an hour of the start of a migraine. Metoclopramide reduces nausea and vomiting, while barbiturates induce drowsiness. Baclofen relaxes muscle tissues, thus decreasing spasm. Methysergide blocks nerve impulses at the spinal cord and has sedative effects.
People who feel they need immediate relief should see a doctor. However, it is important to seek medical attention only when necessary. If you are suffering from extreme migraine pain, call 911 immediately.
Until we know more about what causes migraines, how to predict their occurrence, and why they affect women more than men, there is little hope for finding a cure. While scientists continue research, here are a few tips to help you cope with your own migraine attacks:
turn off the lights. Migraines often increase sensitivity to light and sound. Try temperature therapy. Apply hot or cold compresses to your head or neck. Drink a caffeinated beverage.
eat foods high in protein and fiber. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, walnuts and flaxseed, provide essential nutrients that support healthy skin, nerves and muscles. Consume foods high in antioxidants, such as berries, green tea and red wine.
avoid dehydration. Drinking water will help keep your electrolytes balanced.
take supplements containing vitamins C and E. Vitamin C helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E protects cell membranes from peroxidation, allowing them to function properly.
try biofeedback therapy. Biofeedback involves learning relaxation techniques that can help decrease muscle tension. During sessions, a trained professional monitors your body reactions and teaches you how to relax.
get enough rest. Lack of sleep weakens your immune system and makes you tired, which increases the likelihood of developing migraines.
keep a diary. Keeping track of daily activities and patterns of illness can help identify triggers. You can then try to avoid those things that make you ill.”
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