A migraine is not just any other ordinary headache… it is a very debilitating condition that is a combination of headache, nausea, vomiting, etc and causes significant distress to the patient. This painful condition affects as many as 28 million people in USA alone with the incidence being higher amongst females as compared to males.
On account of its nature, migraine can indeed rob a person of his quality of life and whether the patient stays at home or goes to work in spite of the pain, it ultimately results in lost productivity. Migraine is one of the common causes for work absenteeism as well as late arrival to office and leaving early from work. Thus the work productivity may be compromised in spite of presenteeism at the office. The sad thing is that there is considerable disability associated with this condition in chronic cases which often goes unrecognized at the clinic level.
The American Headache Society hosted the 2009 International Headache Congress in Philadelphia wherein research studies highlighted the enormous impact of migraine on global economy. One study estimated that more than $24 billion is lost annually in US alone due to direct medical expenditure and lost productivity resulting from migraine.
Research studies have clearly demonstrated that Homeopathy has significant help to offer to patients in terms of reduced frequency of migraine headaches, reduced intensity of the attacks and improvement in quality of life after commencing treatment.
What is Migraine?
Migraine is basically a form of a vascular headache that is chronic and recurrent in nature. Patients suffering from migraine usually describe it as an intense, throbbing or pounding headache which generally affects only one side of the head. Occasionally, the pain may affect both sides or may alter sides.
Migraines can occur at any age but usually commence between ten to forty years of age. The episodes tend to taper down with advancing age. Almost 15% of the population globally is affected by migraine. Women are affected thrice as more commonly as compared to men. A large number of people with migraine (almost 80%) have at least one family member who suffers from or has had migraine in the past.
The frequency of migraine headache varies largely from patient to patient – some migraineurs may experience the headache episodes several times a month whereas others may get only a few sporadic episodes in the entire year. The pain generally lasts for a few hours but at times even up to 3 days.
Migraine afflicts more than 28 million Americans according to The National Headache Foundation and is one of the common causes for absenteeism from work or loss of productivity in spite of presenteeism during sickness. Billions of dollars are spent every year on treatment for migraine as well as for research on the same.
There are two basic types of migraine headaches:
Common migraine: This accounts for almost 80% of all migraine headaches. In common migraine, there is no aura before the headache commences. Common migraine tends to be less severe as compared to classic migraine.
Classic migraine: Patients with classic migraine experience an ‘aura’ before their headache begins. An aura is a neurological phenomenon that precedes the migraine attack and consists of a visual disturbance in most cases.
Causes of Migraine
Migraine is a vascular headache that is caused due to vasodilatation (engorgement of blood vessels) and abnormalities in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. Chiefly, when the amounts of the chemicals dopamine and serotonin alter abnormally, the result is constriction and dilatation of the blood vessels leading to a painful sensation. The exact cause as to why this occurs is still in the research phase.
Migraines also tend to be hereditary in nature. Almost 80% of migraineurs have a positive family history of migraine. A person who has one parent suffering from migraine has a 50% chance of developing the same whereas someone whose both parents suffer from migraine has almost 75% chance of getting migraine.
A combination of the above two factors decides the course of migraine in most patients. Apart from this, there are many factors that can trigger the onset of an episode of migraine in a susceptible person. Some of the common triggers of migraine have been discussed here:
- Stress: Stress is one of the most common triggers of migraine. Physical stress, mental stress, emotions like anxiety, grief, worry, excitement, etc. can all trigger a headache in an individual who is prone to develop migraine. These can also intensify the severity of the pain in someone who is having an acute episode of headache.
- Certain foods and beverages: Cheese, alcoholic drinks, monosodium glutamate (common ingredient of Chinese foods), foods containing gluten, caffeine withdrawal, chocolates, red wine, etc. are some of the common triggers of migraine.
- Skipping meals, lack of sleep or changes in the sleeping pattern are some other common triggers especially attributed to modern day lifestyle.
- Strong odors, perfumes, incense sticks, etc. can trigger an episode or worsen an existing attack of migraine headache
- Menstrual periods are one of the very common triggers of a migraine attack in women. A large number of women experience worsening of their headaches either before, during or after their menstrual periods.
- Change in weather
- Excessive fatigue
- Bright lights can trigger a severe headache in many patients
It may not be possible at first to detect the migraine triggers in every case. However, if patients are informed about the variety of things that can be a potential cause of their pain, they may be able to track and record what triggers the migraine in their case.
Symptoms of Migraine
A large number of people think that migraine is simply a headache that is usually one-sided. However, migraine is something much more than a simple headache and it causes a lot of suffering to the migraineur. This section deals with some of the common symptoms of migraine.
As discussed earlier, migraine can be of two types – Common and Classic migraine. The major difference between the two is that there is no preceding ‘aura’ in common migraine. In addition, common migraines tend to be less severe as compared to classic ones. A typical episode of migraine can be divided into the following phases:
- Prodrome: This phase, which is seen in almost one third of migraineurs, primarily consists of mood swings (irritability, anger, depression, etc.) and craving for certain foods. The patient may also experience general fatigue, muscle stiffness in neck and back, lack of concentration, etc. The prodrome phase is more like a warning before the migraine attack commences. A large number of people can predict the onset of their migraine from the prodromal symptoms.
- Aura: Almost one fifth of migraineurs experience an aura before their headache commences. An aura is most commonly a visual disturbance that precedes the phase of headache. Blurred vision, floaters, light flashes, partial loss of vision in one eye, blind spots, geometric patterns in front of eyes are some common presentations of an aura. The aura lasts for anywhere between 15 minutes to one hour.Occasionally, an aura may also be a ‘non-visual’ symptom such as a funny taste in mouth, ringing in ears, difficulty in speech, loss of balance, tingling numbness of hands or feet, confusion, etc.
- Headache: The headache is typically one-sided though it may affect the entire head in up to 40% of the cases. The pain may even shift sides in some cases. The nature of pain is described as throbbing, pounding headache by most patients though it may start off as a dull pain initially. The pain worsens with movement. The pain is accompanied by nausea in many cases and this may end in vomiting. Many patients experience excessive sensitivity to light and sound during the acute phase of the headache. The pain may last between 4 to 72 hours. Loss of appetite, fatigue, dizziness, etc. are some other symptoms commonly seen.
- Postdrome: Once the headache has terminated, some symptoms may linger on for some time especially fatigue, inability to concentrate, etc.