A migraine is a severe, crippling headache that lasts for hours or days at a time. These headaches are a chronic medical condition for which there is no known cure but effective treatment can keep the symptoms at bay.
There are two types of migraines, those with an aura (common migraines) and those without an aura (classic migraines).
People that suffer from migraines with an aura will commonly see visual disturbances about a half an hour before the headache begins. These could take the form of shooting stars, blind sots, or zigzag lines. Other may have certain smells or cravings when an attack is impending.
When the migraine headache strikes, it often starts on one side of the head and may spread to the other side. The patient feels intense throbbing pain that is most severe around the temples. Other symptoms can accompany the headache like nausea, fatigue, irritability, numbness, weakness, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and noises.
Although the exact cause of migraines still is not known, it is thought that the pain is caused by a restriction of blood vessels in the brain caused by dilation that floods the brain with blood and causes headache pain. Certain foods seem to trigger this reaction. These foods are alcoholic drinks, MSG, meat with nitrates like lunch meat, fermented foods, aged cheese, nuts, and chocolate.
Diagnosis of migraines headache relies on history of symptoms and diagnostic tests given to rule out other medical conditions. A CT scan can rule out tumors and infections. An MRI might be done to look for strokes, aneurysms, tumors, and problems with the blood vessels in the brain. A spinal tap might be done if the doctor suspects the headaches are caused by meningitis or other infection.
There are prescription medications on the market to help treat migraine headaches. Because headaches occur at random times, drugs are most commonly prescribed to treat an attack that is underway. However, patients that have attacks twice a month or more may take medication to help prevent attacks from happening.
In addition, lifestyle changes can help treat migraine headaches. The patient must identify his triggers and avoid them in order to ward off headaches. In addition, he should get plenty of sleep, avoid smoking, get regular exercise, and practice stress reduction.
Some herbs have been used to treat migraines as well. Studies have been done with butterbur and they have found this herb may reduce the duration and frequency of attacks. However, there is some concern about taking this herb on a long term basis due to its affect on the liver.
Feverfew is a traditional herbal treatment for headaches in general and some advocate its use for migraines as well. Results from clinical studies have been mixed but one study showed people taking feverfew had a reduction in frequency and severity of symptoms. This herb must be taken with caution as it may cause increased risk of bleeding particularly when combined with other blood thinners.
Other herbs have been recommended for treating migraines although there are no clinical studies to substantiate these claims. Some of these include devil's claw, ginger, and willow bark. Medical advice should be sought before taking herbs for migraines especially if prescription medications are taken along with them.