Migraine – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
September 1, 2019
What is a Migraine?
Migraine is one of the most common neurological illnesses in the world. It is underdiagnosed, under-recognized and undertreated. Patients suffering from migraine lose out on the good quality of life associated with decreased work productivity. So it becomes necessary to have an idea of whether the frequent headaches that you get are Migraines or not and whether or not you should be consulting a Neurologist?
Migraine is defined as an episodic disorder with a severe headache associated with nausea and or light and noise sensitivity. Many theories have been floated in Neurology for the etiology of Migraine like genetic factors, Vascular factors, Migraine generator, cortical spreading depression, involvement of the trigeminocervical system and hyperexcitable brain.
Types of Migraines
- Acute Migraine – Acute migraine lasts anywhere between 4 -72 hours.
- Chronic Migraine – Chronic migraine is having headaches for 15 days a month for more than 3 months.
- Migraine with brainstem aura – A combination of visual, sensory, and language symptoms with at least two brainstem symptoms including Slurring of speech, vertigo, ringing or buzzing sensation in the ears, double vision, imbalance and decreased level of consciousness. Some patients do not present with aura and end up directly with headaches.
Symptoms of Migraine
- Prodromal Symptoms
- Noise & light sensitivity
- Excessive yawning
- Craving for certain foods
- Feeling hyper or cranky
- Urinating more often
- Getting constipated or having diarrhea
- Sensory Symptoms
- Prodromal Symptoms
Sensory aura is usually unilateral, involving the hand, arm, shoulder and face. It can be felt as a tingling sensation or a numb sensation in the aforementioned body parts.
The post-normal period includes visual, motor, sensory, language and brainstem manifestations. All the symptoms felt during the aura are fully and completely reversible in the 60 minutes.
- Visual aura is seeing wavy lines and flashing lights. Language aura is of mild severity and includes the wrong usage of a word or using a word that does not exist commonly called paraphasic errors. Motor aura involves transient weakness of the hand and arm mostly.
On the other hand, few patients present only with the aura, without the headache. The aura is followed by unilateral throbbing headache in the majority of patients, though bilateral headache may also be present. After the headache, during the post-normal period, patients usually have a migraine hangover wherein they feel extremely tired and wrung out.
Causes of Migraine
The exact causes of migraine are not exactly known yet they’re presumed to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. Many patients can identify their migraine triggers. Exposure to a trigger ends up precipitating a migraine attack. Triggers can be sunlight, weather factors, coffee, chocolate, missed meals, emotional stress, menstruation, sleep disturbances, strong odours, alcohol, visual stimuli, muscle tension and physical exercise.
- Bright lights
- Flickering screens, such as a television or computer screen
- Smoking or smoky rooms
- Loud noises
- Changes in climate
- Strong smells
- A stuffy atmosphere
- Missed, delayed or irregular meals
- Caffeine products, such as tea and coffee
Treatment for Migraine
- Lifestyle modification
- Abortive treatment
- Preventive treatment
Lifestyle modifications include maintaining a headache diary, timely food intake, adequate sleep, identifying and avoiding migraine triggers. Headache diary includes frequency of headaches in a week, nature of pain, duration of headache, precipitating and relieving factors.
The abortive treatment gives immediate relief of headaches and includes the usage of paracetamol, NSAIDs and triptans.
Preventive treatment reduces the frequency of migraine attacks and gradually prevents them. Triptans, beta-blockers, antidepressants and antiepileptics are some of the drugs used to prevent migraine attacks. To achieve better patient compliance triptans are available as nasal sprays and orally disintegrating strips. Botox injections are another mode of treatment for chronic migraine. Recently monoclonal antibodies were introduced as a form of treatment for migraine.