What Is A Migraine (And What Types Exist)

'A Spade In The Head, You'll Feel Like Death. Then You'll Know A Migraine'

By Definition –

A Migraine Is A Very Complex Neurological Event. It’s symptoms are not only typically a lot more painful than a headache, but almost always include considerable sensory disturbance as well as pain down just one side of your head. There are a number of different types of migraine, and many potential triggers (or reasons) why you might suffer one. 

Unlike headaches, these don’t simply provide some discomfort, a migraine will normally render the sufferer unable to do much for anything from 4 to 72 hours. 

 “Migraines Are Headaches On Steroids”. No It Isn’t. There Are Many Types Of Migraine And Knowing Your Migraine Is Knowing Your Enemy. Migraines Are So Much More Than ‘Just’ Bad Headaches.

What Is A Migraine?

Around 1 in 7 people suffer with migraines (The Journal of Headache and Pain). Migraines can bring anybody to a shuddering halt. They can last for days at a time with pain so bad, that it is common for sufferers to be unable to go to work or carry out normal activities.

According to findings from the Migraine Trust, migraines are actually more common than asthma, epilepsy and diabetes added together.

A migraine could be defined as a more severe type of headache with a throbbing pain typically down one side of your head. Unlike a headache however, they typically carry other symptoms including sensitivity to light and/ or sound as well as feeling really sick.

While the pain is normally focused on one side of your head, it is worth noting that pain can occur on both sides and may even end up affecting your face and neck.

Migraines tend to get less severe as sufferers get older, but there is no guarantee that this will be the case. 

They are statistically much more likely to affect women than men due to hormonal triggers and according to the World Health Organisation are most prevalent in people aged 35-45.

Why some people are ffected by migraines and other people not, is thought to be largely down to genetics.

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Symptoms Of A Migraine

Migraine symptoms are typically characterized by throbbing pains down one side of your head. These pains can be complete agony and enough to leave even touch adults in tears.

However, there are a number of other symptoms that you might suffer with during a migraine.

  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Sweating
  • Sickness (both feeling sick and actually being sick)
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Stomach Pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Poor concentration

There are also a number of migraine symptoms typically experienced when you get a migraine with aura, that are part of the initial warning that a migraine is on its way. These include –

  • Seeing flashing lights or blind spots
  • Dizziness (feeling off balance)
  • Trouble speaking
  • Numbness and possible pins and needles

Obviously, not everyone suffers with the same migraine symptoms – you might have none or any collection of the above and they may even vary from migraine to migraine.

Migraine Stages

A migraine is very different to a headache, not least because they normally last several days. As such, we can divide their progression in to certain migraines stages –

Prodromal Stage.

This happens before any sign of a headache and features unconscious changes in energy levels, mood swings and even dramatic alterations to your normal appetite. Feeling very thirsty and a slightly stiff neck are other warnings to watch out for. Yawning a lot and constipation are other signs to consider.

After a few migraines, it is possible and beneficial if you can recognise your signs, so you can act to take preventive measures to lessen the impact of your migraine.

Aura.

Not all migraines have an aura stage, but for those that do, it typically features you seeing flashing lights, blind spots and a general blurring of vision. Other symptoms can include numbness, vertigo and general weakness with some sufferers reporting memory loss as well. This normally only happens about an hour or less before an attack. Perhaps somewhat obviously a ‘migraine without aura’ will not feature this stage.

‘Headache’ Stage.

Usually a throbbing pain down one side of your head with a mix of the other symptoms, individual to yourself (extreme sensitivity to light/ sounds, vomiting, diarrheoa etc). This will normally last for up to 72 hours. This stage is when the pain can reach an almost unbearable level.

Resolution.

The extreme symptoms that you’ve been suffering with will start to diminish and fade away, replaced by a feeling of fatigue and general exhaustion as your body starts to recover itself.

Recovery.

Very often the sufferer is left exhausted by the whole trauma of a migraine and will take several days to recover to anywhere near 100% as productive as prior to the migraine.

Types Of Migraines

Abdominal Migraine

Aura Migraine

Chronic Migraine

Hemiplegic Migraine

Magnesium Migraine

Menstrual Migraine

Ocular Migraine

Retinal Migraine

Silent Migraines

Vestibular Migraines

What Is The Best Way To Treat A Migraine?

Thankfully, there are a number of successful methods available to treat migraines. One is to treat them by preventing them in the first place. This can be done by learning to recognize your migraine triggers, details of how can be found here.

Alternatively, there are a whole range of alternative therapies that have proven results in treating migraines. According to a study by Astin published in the JAMA (The Journal of American Medical Association), migraines and headaches are one of the problems most frequently treated with alternative therapies.

There are also a range of other medical treatments, both over-the-counter options and those only available by prescription. We go through all these in more detail on a page about basic migraine relief.

We also go through all the various types of migraine, so if you recognise your migraine type from above, just use our menu or click on the migraine above, for more specific advice on your migraine.

Visiting A Doctor

Most people dont visit a doctor with migraines unless they become really severe. The truth is there is not a lot more they can do after the first diagnosis anyway.

HOWEVER, if your symptoms change, particularly if you start experiencing fever-like symptoms, confusion afterwards or seizures, then you need to call an ambulance straight away. 

This could be a stroke or serious disease such as meningitis and needs immediate treatment.

The Final Word –

Once you understand what a migraine is, what type of migraine you suffer with, you can start to think about how to prevent your next migraine and treat one if it does come along.

We provide information in two ways – much more detail on each specific migraine (coming soon) and a general comprehensive list of the treatments available. 

Links for all these pages are below.

Frequently Asked Questions

Migraines react badly to change. This could be changes in weather, sleep patterns or stress to name change a few potential reasons.

Hormones play a very big part too and particularly oestrogen levels. The constantly fluctuating oestrogen levels in women’s bodies have long been blamed (probably fairly), for the much higher incidence of migraines in women.

There is limited data available on the exact incidence of migraines in children. 

According to the National Migraine Centre, migraines occur in 4-10% of children, but over half of the migraines go undiagnosed.

Part of the problem is that, while the same body suggests that up to 60% of children suffer headaches, what passes the line to be defined as a migraine rather than a headache is rather vague in children. 

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References –

1. Timothy J Steiner, Lars J Stovner, and Gretchen L Birbeck. (Jan 2013). Migraine: the seventh disabler. The Journal of Headache and Pain.
2. (2010) Headache Disorders – not respected, not resourced. A Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group
on Primary Headache Disorders (APPGPHD)
3. (Feb 2014). How common are headaches? World Health Organisation.
4. Astin JA. (May 1998). Why patients use alternative medicine: results of a national study. The Journal of American Medical Association.

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