Did you know that migraine is the third most common disease in the world and that it is more prevalent than asthma, diabetes, and epilepsy combined? It is estimated that 2% of the world population is affected by chronic migraines and that the disease is likely hormonally-driven. In fact, migraines are three times more common in women. They can happen several times a month or on rare occasions.
So what causes a migraine, what does it feel like and is there anything to help relieve them? Here is Healthy Matters’ complete guide to severe headaches aka migraines.
Migraines are headaches that are considered intense or severe. Most often migraines have other symptoms in addition to head pain and the pain is typically felt on one side of the head (however, it is possible to have both sides affected).
Researchers are not sure why some people get migraines and some don’t. Current thinking is they are the result of abnormal brain activity affecting nerve signals and blood vessels inside the brain. We also know that intense headaches run in families and that certain environmental triggers seem to bring them on.
The following triggers are associated with the onset of a migraine:
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These headaches are characterized by disabling, throbbing or pulsing pain usually on one side of the head. They often last for several hours to days at a time.
Such severe headaches span hours or days and go through four stages – though not everyone experiences all four stages.
There are a number of ways to prevent severe headaches. UK-based The Migraine Trust has a comprehensive set of well-researched resources for those seeking more information on migraines and treatments.
The first step to prevent onset of a migraine is to keep a headache diary to record the duration of each migraine, any potential triggers you may have been exposed to, and how long it lasted. This will help you find patterns and better manage migraine triggers.
If the onset of your migraine is associated with hormonal swings, you may consider hormonal therapy or oral contraceptives.
Multiple studies have found that people who took supplements of vitamin B2, CoQ10 or magnesium daily have had fewer migraines after 3 months. Some vitamins can interact with other pharmaceuticals so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you’re taking other medications.
Both butterbur and feverfew show promising results in preventing migraines but can interact with other drugs and may not be safe for people with liver problems and/or diabetes. Butterbur, in particular, can cause liver toxicity so should only be used in close consultation with a doctor.
The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends patients be offered topiramate or propranolol to manage long-term migraines, under close physician supervision.
Acupuncture has been found to be an effective treatment for severe headaches. This is good news for us in Hong Kong where Chinese medicine is an integral part of life. Interestingly, acupuncture is offered in the UK’s public health service (NHS) as a migraine treatment if other medications have not been effective.
If migraines or headaches are affecting your quality of life, it’s important to be proactive and seek treatment from your physician, a complementary medicine practitioner, or a HK-registered Chinese medicine practitioner.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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