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Migraines: Causes, Prevention and Treatments

A migraine is a highly painful headache, that is often accompanied by neurological symptoms, such as nausea and sensitivity to stimuli such as light and sound. These neurological symptoms are often what differentiates a migraine from a headache, as migraine sufferers experience a host of neurological symptoms alongside their pain. Many people suffer from migraines regularly. 

An important thing to note is that migraines may sometimes be a sign of a more serious health concern, meaning that you should contact 000 or your doctor. If you experience a very sharp or sudden migraine, a migraine after an injury, or a migraine accompanied by unusual symptoms such as fever, you should seek medical attention immediately. It is always best to investigate migraines to rule out any more serious causes such as a stroke.

Common symptoms of migraine:

  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling odd or fatigued for a day or two before the migraine
  • Stiff neck
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensory disturbances (Aura)

 

Migraine Auras

The term ‘migraine aura’ is often used by people with migraines as a way of explaining the range of common and temporary sensory disturbances experienced before or during a migraine. This could include visual and aural disturbances such as:

  • Geometric designs that move around and obscure your vision, such as zig-zag lines or circular geometric shapes that cause a blind spot. 
  • Shimmers or stars that dance across the visual field
  • Flashing light
  • Pain when looking at light
  • A ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Numbness or tingling

Some migraine sufferers experience a migraine aura without experiencing a headache. This can be alarming but is fairly common. These migraines sometimes occur with a specific type of aura so frequently that they are given a specific name and subtype. The most common subtype of migraine with aura is a retinal migraine or ocular migraine. This affects the vision and can lead to difficulty seeing in one or both eyes, with visual disturbances affecting the visual field, leading to effects such as stars, geometric shapes, or blind spots. 

 

What causes migraines?

Migraines are a complex physiological process, and the exact cause is not clear. Current research implies that a migraine is a result of a large wave of electrical activity in the brain. This abnormal activity can affect nerve signals, and lead to the aura that is often described by migraine sufferers. There is also evidence to suggest that both environmental factors and genetics affect your chances of experiencing migraines.

While we don’t know the exact cause of migraines, we have become familiar with a range of triggers and the effect that they might have on the development of a migraine. One way to manage migraines is to identify personal triggers and avoid them where possible. These include:

Sleep and fatigue 

If you are low on sleep or feeling burnt out and fatigued, you are more likely to experience a migraine. A sudden change in sleep patterns can also be a trigger.

Hormonal changes

For women who experience migraines, hormonal changes are likely to play a role. The hormone oestrogen fluctuates greatly throughout a woman’s cycle, as well as before, during and after pregnancy and menopause. This change can trigger migraines in women.

Stimuli

Experiencing strong sensory stimuli such as strong chemical smells may trigger a migraine.

Medication

Common medications such as oral contraceptives may lead to a migraine. 

Exercise

Some people experience a migraine after a workout, and this is often called an ‘exercise-induced migraine’. It’s particularly likely to occur after an intense workout.

Stress 

Becoming highly stressed or anxious can trigger a migraine for 70% of people who experience them. 

Diet 

Certain foods such as food high in histamine are likely to trigger a migraine in certain people. Other common dietary triggers include dairy products, artificial sweeteners and unfortunately, caffeine and alcohol. These can trigger migraines for many people, so it is worth being mindful of your consumption and keeping an eye out to see if what you are eating or drinking causes you any trouble.

 

Migraine treatments

Medications

Medications such as painkillers can be taken when a migraine begins in order to reduce the severity of the pain experienced. For people who suffer from frequent migraines, a preventative medication might be used, such as medication to prevent electrical overactivity from occurring in the brain or to reduce blood pressure. 

Lifestyle changes 

Alterations to lifestyle such as diet, exercise, stress reduction and sleep can all help to reduce the prevalence of migraines. Mental and physical relaxation through methods such as yoga and acupuncture can help to reduce the frequency of migraines by alleviating stress and tension in the body.

 

How a Physio can Help

Some people who assume they have migraines may be experiencing cervicogenic headaches, where problems in the neck or spine cause headaches. A physio can assess for any potential problems or structural causes that may be causing headaches or migraines.

If you have exercise-induced migraines, then a trained physiotherapist can help you to identify an exercise plan that helps you to achieve your goals without triggering a migraine.

Additionally, a physiotherapist can provide you with services such as dry needling, remedial massage, and exercise plans aimed at reducing stress and improving overall health and sleep. 

If you’re interested in how a physiotherapist could help you to manage your migraines, contact us on 4724 0768 or email us at reception@physionorth.com.au. One of our friendly physiotherapists will be happy to discuss your triggers, needs and concerns in order to develop a personalised plan to support you in your migraine management.

 

*All information is general in nature. For specific advice please visit your health professional.
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