By Igor Levy, M.D., Certified in Neurology and Geriatric Neurology Neuroscience, Spine and Associates, P.L. –
Approximately 1 out of 8 Americans experience migraines. A migraine is an intense, throbbing headaches that may be accompanied by nausea or dizziness. Lasting anywhere from hours to days, a migraine can cause excruciating pain. Experts aren’t sure what causes these headaches. But they seem to involve a wave of unusual activity in brain nerve cells, along with changes in blood flow in the brain.
Much about migraines isn’t understood. Many researchers believe that a migraine can be caused by a change of hormone levels in the brain. Stress, bright lights, and certain smells can trigger migraines. They can also be caused by medications and by getting too little or too much sleep. Certain foods may trigger migraines as well. These include alcohol, aged cheeses, chocolate, and food containing aspartame or MSG.
A typical migraine results in moderate to sever pain. This pain is generally felt on only one side of the head. The pain may interfere with a person’s daily activities. Symptoms may also include nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Some people see sparkling flashes lights, spots, or dazzling lines before a migraine, these are called visual auras.
Migraines may be treated with pain-relieving medications and with rest in a darkened room. People who experience migraines regularly may also take medications such as beta blockers or antihistamines. These can reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches.
Any kind of pain is your body’s way of warning you about an injury or illness. Although migraines and headaches are rarely the symptoms of a serious illness, occasionally they may indicate a serious medical condition such as a tumor or aneurysm (blood vessel rupture). It is important for you to become familiar with your personal headache symptoms, and those that require immediate medical attention.
When to seek medical treatment
If you or a loved one has any of the following headache symptoms seek medical care immediately:
• A sudden, new severe headache
• A headache that is associated with neurological (nerve) symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, seizures, personality changes/inappropriate behavior, or vision changes (blurry vision, double vision, or blind spots)
• Headache with a fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck, or rash
• Headache pain that awakens you at night
• Headaches with severe nausea and vomiting
• Headaches that occur after a head injury or accident
• Getting a new type of headache after age 55
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