Understanding migraine headache symptoms can be frustrating and stressful for a multitude of reasons. And since migraine headaches are one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, they can significantly impact our global healthcare costs and impact.
As many patients have experienced, they’re far more than just your standard chronic headaches. Migraines are a complex neurological condition that can significantly impact your relationships, mental health, and quality of life.
Sadly, very few providers, and even fewer patients, genuinely understand migraine headaches. It’s essential to know the underlying triggers and environmental factors that can bring on migraine headache symptoms.
Patient education about migraine headaches is vital because symptoms can come and go with no warning or reason. finding long-term relief is crucial for those who suffer from this debilitating condition.
This article will explore common migraine headache symptoms. We will also discuss effective relief methods that don’t require medications, surgery, or medical devices.
Migraine Headache Symptoms: What Are They?
Migraine headaches are characterized by a throbbing or pulsing sensation, typically on one side of the head. In reality, symptoms can vary widely among individuals, which is why migraines can be so challenging to diagnose and treat. They can remain elusive for even the most trained physicians and can be devastating for patients who suffer from them.
Regardless, it’s essential to understand them.
Common migraine symptoms can include:
Pain on One Side of Your Head
Unlike regular headaches, migraines often present as concentrated pain on one side of the head. Most people describe it as a sharp shooting pain, with throbbing sensations at times. These symptoms can vary between each person. In our office, we’ve also seen patients with migraines have pain switch from one side of the head to the other, but it’s rare overall. The pain is usually located over the eye, forehead, and temple but can also radiate into the ear, neck, and face on the same side.
Sensitivity to Light and Sound
Many people with migraine headaches find bright lights and loud sounds unbearable during an attack. Light and sound can also be a significant trigger for their migraine headache attacks, especially when an aura precedes them. In most patients who suffer from migraine headaches, all sensory-driven environmental stimuli can trigger symptoms.
Interestingly, smells and complex visual environments can even trigger symptoms for some people, so it’s essential to take inventory of your surroundings when a migraine headache starts. It’s also important for providers to be aware of these triggers to ensure their offices can handle patients suffering from migraine headache symptoms while in the office.
Nausea and Vomiting
These symptoms can be particularly debilitating, making it hard to eat or drink, especially when it’s a sudden onset or over a long period of time. While this isn’t a requirement for a migraine, it is usually a telltale sign when accompanied by the previous symptoms listed, as more than 50% of patients who suffer from migraine headaches deal with nausea and vomiting.
Visual Disturbances (Aura)
Although this isn’t guaranteed, some people experience flashes of light, blind spots, or other vision changes before a migraine begins. Clinically, some patients have reported auras 24-72 hours before a migraine attack begins as well. Regardless of the timing of an aura, it’s usually a strong sign of a migraine headache developing.
Studies have shown that vertigo is more frequent in patients who suffer from migraines, and sadly, migraines are more frequent in patients who suffer from vertigo. While the exact mechanisms have yet to be confirmed, the best guess is that it involves the Trigeminal nerve system. This system is responsible for helping us chew, providing sensation of the entire face, and regulating blood flow in the head and skull.
Migraine Triggers and Causes of Symptoms
Various factors can trigger migraines, including stress, certain foods, hormonal and weather changes, and even lack of sleep. Although the exact cause of migraines remains not fully understood, experts believe it involves abnormal neurological activity. Specifically, it is affecting the synchronization of brain networks, proper functioning of blood flow, and neuroinflammatory metabolic cascades within the brain.
For patients, migraine headache symptoms can be a sign of underlying metabolic or neurological function, ranging from gut issues to autoimmune conditions and even chronic infections causing inflammation. While genetics may play a role, the literature has yet to understand an established link between the best care routes.
Sadly, most providers aren’t aware of this, which is why it’s so important to see a doctor who consistently works with migraine headaches and has had success in treating them.
Finding Long-Term Relief from Migraine Headaches
Finding relief from migraine headaches will need an integrative approach. It will often involve a combination of lifestyle changes, home remedies, and traditional medical treatments like medication or injections.
Sadly, there is no “one size fits all” approach to treatment, which is why both patients and providers need to take an individualized approach to treatment and care.
Here are some of the most effective treatment strategies for migraines:
For mild to moderate migraines, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin may help. Keep in mind that they must be used and prescribed with discretion. For severe migraines, primary care doctors may prescribe medications like triptans, antiemetics, and ergot alkaloids, which are drugs specifically for migraine headache symptoms that are unresponsive to primary interventions.
It’s important to remember that medications can regulate symptoms, but they rarely address the underlying root cause.
It has been well established in the medical literature that environmental factors like regular physical exercise, adequate sleep, proper hydration, and adequate stress management can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headache symptoms. While easier said than done, lifestyle changes can be some of the most effective ways to keep migraine headaches regulated. They require buy-in from both the patient and provider and can significantly benefit an individual’s overall health.
Identifying and avoiding common food triggers can be beneficial for treating migraine headaches. Common triggers include caffeine, alcohol, food dyes, dairy products, aged cheeses, and processed foods, but once again, every patient can differ in their response.
Clinically, it’s also crucial for providers to look into underlying nutritional deficiencies, autoimmunity, and triggers for inflammation. Studies have shown that 50% of chronic migraine patients are clinically deficient in magnesium and respond positively to magnesium supplementation. Since a majority of magnesium is found in your bone, it’s difficult to test for magnesium deficiency.
Dosing with magnesium for 60-90 days is a good place to start. In that window, you should know whether or not your migraine headache symptoms are improving or not.
Stress-management practices such as yoga, meditation, and deep belly breathing may help manage short and long-term stress, which is a common trigger for migraine headache symptoms. Eliminating environmental triggers such as light, sound, smells, and complex visual scenes can also help improve symptoms.
Applying a cold pack to your head or neck can provide pain relief for migraine headache symptoms. Full-body cold water submersion can also be therapeutic in preventing and treating migraine headaches. The cold water decreases neuronal signaling of pain and can also stimulate brain areas responsible for controlling blood flow.
In our clinic, we’ve utilized cold water therapy for specific patients. By placing the patient’s hands and feet in a cold bucket of water for a specific period, we’ve seen positive changes in migraine headache symptoms. We’ve also found that having patients place their faces in a bowl of cold water can also have benefits in alleviating migraine headache symptoms.
Remember that no single therapy can guarantee success. Providers need to adequately understand what each patient needs via an examination and diagnostic workup.
Migraine Headache Prevention Tips
Various forms of migraines can be prevented, and lifestyle adjustments can reduce their frequency and intensity. Once again, each person will differ in their triggers. You need to understand what influences the onset of your migraine headache symptoms.
Here are some basic prevention tips:
Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule
Irregular sleep patterns can trigger migraines, negatively affect your blood sugar and metabolism, and alter your ability to recover. We also know that sleep has significant benefits regarding our mental and physical health. It can help us clear out accrued toxins in the brain via filtering cerebrospinal fluid during deep sleep stages. Prioritizing sleep will have global benefits for your overall health and well-being.
Dehydration can be a common trigger for migraine headache symptoms, and since the brain is 73% water, hydration is an essential component of healthy brain function. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Get Regular Exercise
Physical activity can reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches due to the significant and global impacts on our overall health. Exercise enhances blood flow to the brain and body. It also promotes anti-inflammatory responses and optimizes the brain’s neural networks to form new connections via Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) production.
Exercise also has significant benefits on our mental health, which can become affected by migraine headaches and the pain accompanying them. Getting at least 30 minutes a day of exercise can have life-changing effects and outcomes.
Regular Stress Management Management
As previously mentioned, stress management techniques can help you calm your mind, which can have notable effects on your brain and overall physiology. Regardless of how it’s done, stress management can yield dividends across all aspects of your life.
Migraine Headache Treatment & Provide Long-Term Relief
Migraine headaches can be challenging, but understanding your symptoms and triggers is the first step towards managing them. By combining various forms of lifestyle changes, home remedies, and medical treatments, you can find relief and improve your quality of life, regardless of how long you’ve been dealing with migraine headaches.
*Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only and is not intended for medical diagnosis, treatment, or as a cure. It does not establish a doctor-patient relationship. Always consult your doctor or a qualified healthcare provider before starting any new health program.