To say dealing with migraines and other types of chronic pain is challenging is an understatement. The challenges of chronic pain and migraines could be magnified by how you handle stressful situations. Stress is one of the leading causes of migraines and chronic pain causes more stress, which is a vicious cycle that can go on and on.
What Are the Symptoms of a Migraine?
A migraine headache can result in throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually it’s localized to one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, extreme sensitivity to light, smells and sound and sometimes vomiting. An attack from a migraine can last for several hours or even days and it can be so painful, it’s disabling.
A migraine can bring warning signs with it and it’s known as an “aura,” which happens before or with the attack. Signs and symptoms of an impending migraine can include light flashes, blind spots, and tingling on one side of the face, in a person’s arms or legs.
When Do Migraines Usually Strike?
Migraine headaches most often start in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood, but they can literally strike at any time in a person’s life. Migraines have a four-stage process, and these include the following: prodrome, aura, headache and post-dome, though a person may not go through all these stages.
What Conditions Trigger Migraines?
While the precise causes of migraines are not known, there are plenty of conditions and issues which can trigger an attack. The following triggers have been linked to migraine headaches:
- Hormonal changes in females
- Changes in the environment
- Food Additives
- Sensory stimuli
- Changes in the wake-sleep patterns
- Physical factors
These are all conditions a person can control and it’s worthwhile to keep a log of daily activities, foods and other situations/routines/habits, to better determine if these things could be influencing a migraine attack.
What is the Difference Between the Stages of a Migraine Headache?
The prodrome stage happens one or two days before a migraine strikes and a person may notice some subtle changes which signal an attack might happen soon. The signs during this stage can include; constipation, frequent yawning, mood changes, food cravings, stiffness in the neck and increased thirst and urination.
The aura stage most often effects the nervous system and a person may notice visual disturbances, flashes of light, and zigzag vision patterns. Aura symptoms can also involve touching sensations, motor or speech issues, muscle weakness and a person could feel a sense of someone touching them.
After going through the prodrome and aura stages, a person will usually experience a full-blown migraine within a few hours or days. A migraine usually lasts for about three days without treatment, and how often it happens will vary from person to person.
The post-drome stage of a migraine is the final stage and usually happens after an attack. A person may feel physically drained, while most are glad it’s over and feel relief. For about a day after a migraine attack some people might feel confusion, moodiness, dizziness, weakness, and sensitivity to lights, sounds and smells.
Is there a Connection Between Chronic Pain and Migraines?
The relationship between chronic pain and migraine headaches is complicated, there are multiple factors accounting for their comorbidity. Factors which influence a relationship with chronic pain and migraines include occupation, injuries and the presence of psychiatric issues and health risks.
According to a Nord-Trendelag Health Study, a cross sectional population-based study of more than 50,000 people responded to questions concerning headaches and musculoskeletal pain, it was found people with migraines were almost two times more likely than people without migraines to report musculoskeletal pain.
Associations between chronic pain conditions and migraine headaches have also been demonstrated in children and young adults. All the research conducted has shown definitive links between comorbid health conditions (migraines, obesity, asthma, etc.) and chronic pain, and more studies are currently being performed.
Are There Links Between Chronic Pain, Depression and Migraines?
Scientists have clearly determined the link between depression and pain, and with the loss of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, pain symptoms can be even more uncomfortable. Depression seems to be closely linked to certain types of chronic pain in the body and it includes migraine headaches, severe non-migraine headaches and low back pain. Because of this correlation, depression and pain treatments will often overlap.
Depression is linked to both migraines and severe headaches, although the strongest link is between depression and migraines. According to research from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, people who have 15 or more migraine days per month are about twice as likely to experience depression, as people who have episodic migraines.
Antidepressant medications work for both depression and pain because they act on the same parts of the brain where pain and moods tend to overlap. However, chronic types of pain can require other solutions. If a person has arthritis, muscle strain or pain from a health condition, medication that works at the site of pain is extremely important.
There are several non-drug treatments which can be effective at managing stress, migraines, and chronic pain. The methods most commonly used include: cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, relaxation therapy, complementary therapy and support groups.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention for a Migraine?
It’s not uncommon for a migraine to go untreated and undiagnosed. If a person regularly experiences the signs and symptoms of an attack, it is worthwhile to keep a record of the attacks and how they are treated. If you suffer from migraines more than once or twice a month or if your attacks bring on severe symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the issue.
It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms are experienced:
- Severe, abrupt headache like a thunderclap
- New headache pain if over the age of 50
- Headache following a head injury
- A headache with a fever, neck stiffness, seizures, blurry or double vision, weakness, numbness or speech difficulties or changes
- A chronic headache that gets worse with coughing, exertion, straining or any sudden movement
Until recently, medical professionals recommended avoiding the most common triggers for a migraine. However, it’s important to note not all triggers can be avoided and avoiding these things does not always work. There is lifestyle, dietary and coping strategies a person can use to reduce the number and severity of migraines, but medical treatment may involve the following:
- Transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation: this is a headband device that has electrodes attached, the FDA recently approved it for preventative migraine therapy.
- Creating a consistent daily schedule: Establishing a routine that’s followed daily with regular sleep patterns, stress control and regular meals can alleviate migraine episodes or make it less severe.
- Regular exercise: Your doctor can recommend some exercises to do on a daily basis to help reduce or alleviate migraine pain and chronic pain.
- Anti-seizure medications: These medications might work by calming the nerve cells in the brain.
- Beta-blockers: These drugs are usually used for hypertension treatment but can also be useful in treating migraines because of improved blood flow to the brain.
- Antidepressants: These medications affect the level of serotonin in the brain, which could be linked to migraines.
- Triptans for menstrual-related migraines: These medications can treat migraines that are already happening., but frovatriptan ca prevent menstrual-cycle related migraines.
- Botox: Botox has successfully helped some people who have 15 or more migraines a month. Doctors believe Botox may prevent the brain from releasing chemicals the body uses to send pain signals.
The goal of migraine treatment and prevention is to eliminate attacks, shorten attacks and to control the pain associated with these attacks. Stress, migraines and chronic pain can result in depression which can make pain perception much worse. With some lifestyle modifications, paying attention to triggers, consulting with a medical professional and sometime using medication, it is possible to prevent or lessen migraine attacks, alleviate chronic pain and improve a person’s overall quality of life.