Migraines are intense headaches characterized by severe throbbing pain or a pulsating sensation, typically affecting one side of the head. They are often accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for hours to days and can be so debilitating that they disrupt daily activities.
Prior to or during a migraine, some individuals may experience a warning sign called an aura. This can involve visual disturbances like flashes of light or blind spots, as well as other symptoms such as tingling in the face, arm, or leg, and difficulty speaking.
Treatment for migraines may involve medications to prevent or alleviate the pain. Combining appropriate medication with self-help remedies and lifestyle changes can be beneficial.
Migraines can progress through four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome. However, not all individuals experience every stage.
Prodrome: One to two days before a migraine, subtle changes may occur, indicating an impending migraine. These changes can include constipation, mood swings from depression to euphoria, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased urination, fluid retention, and frequent yawning.
Aura: Some individuals may experience an aura before or during migraines. Auras are reversible nervous system symptoms, primarily visual but sometimes involving other disturbances. Each symptom typically develops gradually over several minutes and can last up to an hour. Examples of migraine auras include seeing various shapes, bright spots, or flashes of light; vision loss; pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg; weakness or numbness on one side of the face or body; and difficulty speaking.
Attack: If left untreated, a migraine usually lasts from 4 to 72 hours. The frequency of migraines varies from person to person, occurring infrequently or several times a month. During a migraine attack, common symptoms include pain on one or both sides of the head, throbbing or pulsating pain, sensitivity to light, sound, and sometimes smell and touch, as well as nausea and vomiting.
Post-drome: Following a migraine attack, individuals may feel exhausted, confused, and washed out for up to a day. Some people may experience a sense of euphoria. Sudden head movements may briefly trigger pain again.
When to seek medical attention: Migraines often go undiagnosed and untreated. If you regularly experience signs and symptoms of migraines, it is advisable to keep a record of your attacks and how you manage them. Then, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your headaches. It’s also important to see a doctor if the pattern of your headaches changes or if they suddenly feel different.
Immediate medical attention or a visit to the emergency room is warranted if you experience any of the following signs and symptoms, as they may indicate a more serious medical condition:
- A sudden, severe headache resembling a thunderclap
- Headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision, numbness or weakness in any part of the body, which could indicate a stroke
- Headache following a head injury
- Chronic headache that worsens after coughing, exertion, straining, or sudden movement
- New onset of headache pain after the age of 50.
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