Although they often resemble other types of headaches, migraines exist in a class of their own. The World Health Organization ranks migraine headaches at 19 on its list of health conditions causing disability.[i]
Anyone experiencing migraines on a regular basis would confirm how disabling these headaches are. [ii] Most often, the typical migraine sufferer finds a dark, quiet room and rests there until the pain subsides.
What is a Migraine, and What Causes It?
Migraines differ from other headaches because they occur in phases. And the painful phase of a migraine is almost always associated with other bodily symptoms.
The specific causes of migraines remain elusive. It’s believe vascular changes in the brain are responsible for the pain. Researchers have noted that certain people experience blood vessel contractions and dilations in the brain just prior to a migraine occurring.
Because these contractions and dilations can be influenced by neurological or hormonal factors, experts are investigating these areas for potential solutions to migraines.
Some of the common triggers for migraines include:
- Lack of sleep
- Changes in the weather
- Environmental chemicals
- Liver problems
- Rapid change in hormone levels
- Certain foods (cured meats, red wine, onion, eggs, nuts and cheese)
- Medical conditions (depression, sever hypertension)
The Phases of a Migraine
There are four phases involved with migraines: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome.[iii] Although not all migraines involve all four phases, most patients experience a combination of these symptoms.
Prodrome and Aura
Most migraines are preceded by a specific phase called the prodrome, and it may occur hours or days before the actual headache. During this phase, sufferers may experience depression, food cravings, neck stiffness, nausea, hyperactivity or fatigue.
The next of the hour phases is the aura. This is a collection of neurological symptoms that usually involve a person’s visual experience (e.g. flashing or wavy lights). Other symptoms of an aura may include things like strange smells, tingling sensations and cognitive difficulties. According to one medical expert, only about 20% of patients with migraines experience an aura, and it’s likely to occur shortly before the onset of the headache.[iv]
The prodromal and aura phases warn a person that a migraine is on the way. By taking action during these earlier phases, a migraine sufferer may be able to avoid the more painful stages of this type of headache.
The main characteristics of the headache phase are:
- Moderate to intense pain with a pulsating quality that lasts 4 to 72 hours. It may be aggravated by bright light or loud noise.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Depression and severe anxiety
- Hot flashes and chills
- Dehydration or fluid retention
At this phase the pain has subsided. But most sufferers will tell you the migraine episode is definitely not over. The postdrome phase may take hours or days to complete. During this time, a migraine sufferer may experience:
- Low mood, especially depression
- Feelings of euphoria and well being
- Poor concentration and comprehension
How Do You Treat a Migraine?
For most people who experience recurring migraines, the best option is to find a dark, quiet place, and focus on relaxing. Migraines respond well to peace and quiet.
For those who can’t endure the painful stages of a migraine, they may require migraine specific medications such as NSAIDs, Triptans or Ergot.
Many studies show chiropractic as a very effective tool used to treat migraine headaches.[v][vi] Sometimes chiropractic treatments result in instance and significant relief, but most cases require ongoing care to manage painful episodes.
[i] International Headache Society – http://ihs-classification.org/en/02_klassifikation/02_teil1/01.00.00_migraine.html
[ii] Edmeads J, Findlay H, Tugwell P, Pryse-Philips W, Nelson RF & Murray TJ. Impact of migraine and tension-type headache on life-style, consulting behavior, and medication use: a Canadian population survey. Can J Neurol Sci 1993, 20(2): 131-137.
[iii] Bronfort G, Assendelft WJ, Evans R, Haas M & Bouter L. Efficiacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headache: a systematic review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2001; 24(7): 457-466.
[iv] Bronfort G, Assendelft WJ, Evans R, Haas M & Bouter L. Efficiacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headache: a systematic review. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2001; 24(7): 457-466.
[v] Tuchin PJ, Pollard H, Bonello R. A Randomized controlled trial of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2000; 23(2): 91-95
[vi] Touchin PJ. A case of chronic migraine remission after chiropractic care. J Chiropractic Medicine. 2008; 7(2): 66-70.