If you’re a migraine sufferer, you gotta read this…

Today we’re all about migraine facts and misconceptions – a topic that’s often shrouded in mystery. We’re going to unravel some common myths and share some eye-opening facts about migraines. Plus, what you can do about them!

Migraine Facts and Misconceptions

What is a Migraine?

A migraine is not just a bad headache, as some might think.

A migraine is a neurological condition that can cause a variety of symptoms, most notably a severe, throbbing headache often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and sometimes even visual disturbances known as aura.

It’s like your brain is throwing a tantrum, and unfortunately, you’re the one who has to deal with it.

Genetics and Migraines:

Now, let’s talk about genetics. Did you know that if one of your parents suffers from migraines, you have a 50% chance of experiencing them too? And this jumps to 75% if both parents are migraine sufferers!

This doesn’t mean you’re definitely going to get migraines, but it’s like a genetic lottery – and not the fun kind. Migraines are complex, and genetics play a significant role, but they aren’t the whole story.

Stages of a Migraine:

Migraines are sneaky and can be quite the drama queen, going through different stages:

  1. Prodrome (The Warning): This stage is like the calm before the storm. You might experience subtle changes, like mood swings, food cravings, or even frequent yawning. It’s your body’s way of giving you a heads-up.
    In medicine, a prodrome is an early sign or symptom (or set of signs and symptoms) that often indicates the onset of a disease before more diagnostically specific signs and symptoms develop. [Source: Wikipedia]
  2. Aura (The Signal): Not everyone gets this stage, but for those who do, it can be quite bizarre. Visual disturbances like seeing zigzag lines, flashing lights, or even temporary vision loss can occur. It’s like a psychedelic experience, but definitely not a fun one.
    An aura is a perceptual disturbance experienced by some with epilepsy or migraine. [Wikipedia]
  3. Headache (The Main Event): This is the stage that everyone associates with migraines. The headache can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours if untreated. It’s often on one side of the head, pulsating, and can make you feel like you’re in a vice grip.
  4. Postdrome (The Aftermath): After the headache subsides, you might feel drained or washed out. It’s like your body has just run a marathon, and now it’s time to recover.

In the next sections, we’ll bust some myths and explore how your diet can impact migraines.

Debunking Migraine Misconceptions with Facts:

Let’s bust some migraine myths! It’s amazing how many misconceptions float around, so let’s set the record straight.

  1. Myth: Migraines Are Just Bad Headaches.
    • Fact: Migraines are a neurological condition with a variety of symptoms, not just headaches. They can involve sensory changes, nausea, and more. It’s a complex condition, not just a headache ramped up to eleven.
  2. Myth: Migraines Cause Strokes and Aneurysms.
    • Fact: While migraines, particularly with aura, can slightly increase the risk of strokes, they don’t directly cause them. And no, they don’t cause aneurysms to form or burst. Migraines are painful but not usually life-threatening.

Your Diet and Migraines:

What you eat can play a big role in managing migraines. Some foods can trigger migraines, while others could help prevent them.

  1. Trigger Foods:
    • Certain foods and drinks can be like rolling out the red carpet for a migraine. Common culprits include aged cheeses, processed foods, alcohol (especially red wine), foods high in sugar, and unseen MSG*. (See below.)
      There are certain trigger foods referred to as the “five Cs”, which are Cheese, Chocolate, Claret (i.e. red wines), Coffee (caffeine), and Citrus.
      Your trigger might be someone else’s safe food, so it’s a bit of trial and error.
  2. Migraine-Friendly Foods:
    • On the flip side, some foods might help keep migraines at bay. Foods rich in magnesium (like leafy greens and nuts), omega-3 fatty acids (hello, salmon!), and high in hydration (think watermelon and cucumbers) can be your allies in this battle.
      In addition, figs and bananas can help prevent migraines because of their high potassium level.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – A Common Migraine Trigger:

  • What is MSG? Monosodium Glutamate is a food additive used to enhance the flavor of foods. It’s a type of salt that derives from an amino acid called glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in various foods like cheese and tomatoes. MSG is used in many processed and packaged foods, as well as in some restaurant meals, particularly in certain Asian cuisines.
  • Why is it a Trigger? While MSG is recognized as generally safe by many health organizations, it can be a migraine trigger for some individuals. The reason isn’t entirely clear, but it’s thought that MSG might cause excessive stimulation of nerve cells in some people, or it could affect blood vessels in the brain.
  • Identifying MSG in Foods: It’s important for those with MSG sensitivity to read food labels carefully. MSG can be found in foods like soups, salad dressings, snacks, flavored chips, frozen meals, and some restaurant dishes. It’s not always labeled directly as ‘MSG’ or ‘Monosodium Glutamate,’ sometimes it’s listed under names like ‘hydrolyzed vegetable protein,’ ‘yeast extract,’ or ‘soy protein isolate.’
  • Personal Sensitivity: It’s worth noting that not everyone with migraines is sensitive to MSG, and its role as a trigger varies from person to person. If someone suspects MSG is a trigger for their migraines, it might be helpful to keep a food diary to track and identify any correlations.

Caffeine: Helpful or Harmful?

Caffeine deserves a special mention. It’s a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde situation. A lot of people believe it is helpful.

Okay! A moderate amount may nip a migraine in the bud!

However, too much can trigger one. (It’s all about finding your caffeine sweet spot.)

Hydration and Migraines:

Remember, dehydration is a common migraine trigger. Drinking enough water is a simple yet effective way to keep migraines at bay. Think of water as your daily migraine prevention potion!

In fact, as I started digging deeper into headaches and migraines, I started getting a headache! I immediately started drinking water and within a few minutes – abracadabra! – headache gone! Try this as soon as you realize you have a headache. It’s like magic — if you catch it early enough.

Differentiating Migraines from Other Headaches:

Migraines are often mistaken for other types of headaches, so let’s clear up the confusion:

  1. Tension Headaches: These are the most common type of headache. Imagine a tight band squeezing around your head – that’s a tension headache. They’re usually mild to moderate and don’t come with the bells and whistles of a migraine, like nausea or aura.
  2. Cluster Headaches: Less common but brutally painful. Cluster headaches feel like a burning or piercing pain behind one eye or on one side of the face. They occur in groups or “clusters” over a period. Unlike migraines, they’re more common in men.
  3. Sinus Headaches: Often confused with migraines, sinus headaches occur with sinus infection symptoms like fever, stuffy nose, and facial pressure. The key difference? Migraines aren’t typically accompanied by fever.

Migraine Aura without Headache:

Did you know that you can have a migraine aura without the headache? It’s kind of like getting a sneak preview of a migraine, but the main show never starts.

This can include visual disturbances, sensory changes, or speech difficulties. While it might seem less severe, it’s still important to talk to your doctor about it.

I wanted to mention this because I get these from time to time and while I don’t experience any headache. It’s quite disorienting. I can see everything around me but at the forefront of my vision I get very colorful, rapid squiggly zigzags movements in my eye.

Acute and Episodic Migraines:

The terms “acute” and “episodic” when referring to migraines describe different aspects of migraine occurrences. It’s important to understand these terms to better grasp the nature of migraine attacks and their management.

  1. Acute Migraines:
    • The term “acute” in the context of migraines usually refers to the treatment used during a migraine attack. Acute treatments are aimed at stopping or reducing the severity of a migraine once it has started.
    • This involves medications taken at the onset of migraine symptoms or during a migraine attack. These can include over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as prescription medications such as triptans, which are specifically designed to treat migraines.
    • The goal of acute treatment is to address the immediate symptoms and ideally stop the migraine from progressing further.
  2. Episodic Migraines:
    • “Episodic” migraines refer to the frequency and pattern of migraine attacks. Episodic migraines are characterized by having migraine attacks on fewer than 15 days per month.
    • This classification is about the regularity of the migraines, not their intensity or duration. Even within episodic migraines, the severity and symptoms can vary significantly from one person to another.
    • The term helps in distinguishing from “chronic migraines,” which are defined as having migraine symptoms on 15 or more days per month for more than three months.

In essence, “acute” relates to the immediate treatment of a migraine attack, while “episodic” describes the frequency of migraine occurrences.

Understanding these differences is important for both sufferers and healthcare providers in developing effective treatment strategies.

For instance, someone with frequent episodic migraines might not only need acute treatment for individual attacks but also preventive treatment to reduce the frequency and severity of future episodes.

Migraine Facts and Misconceptions

Migraines can sometimes be a symptom or a manifestation of other underlying health problems. While migraines are often a standalone condition, in certain cases, they might be indicative of or related to other medical issues. Here are some examples:

  1. Hormonal Changes: Women may experience migraines that are linked to hormonal fluctuations, particularly due to estrogen. Conditions like menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause, or hormonal medications (birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy) can trigger migraines.
  2. Medication Overuse Headaches: Regular, long-term use of headache medication can lead to medication overuse headaches, which are different from migraines but can trigger migraine-like symptoms.
  3. Sleep Disorders: Conditions such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and other sleep disturbances can trigger migraines or exacerbate migraine frequency and severity.
  4. Neurological Disorders: Migraines might come with other symptoms that are atypical, could be associated with more serious neurological conditions, such as stroke or cerebral aneurysms.
  5. Psychiatric Disorders: There is a known comorbidity between migraines and certain psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
  6. Cardiovascular Issues: Migraines, especially those with aura, have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and heart attacks.
  7. High Blood Pressure: While the relationship between high blood pressure and migraines is complex, fluctuations in blood pressure can sometimes trigger migraines.
  8. Sinus Issues: Sinus infections and other sinus issues can cause headaches that may be confused with migraines.

It’s important to note that having migraines does not necessarily mean you have one of the above conditions.

However, if you experience a sudden change in your migraine pattern, unusual symptoms, or if your migraines are particularly severe, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional. They can help determine whether your migraines are a symptom of another underlying condition and provide appropriate treatment or referrals.

What You Can Do

Migraine management often involves similar strategies across different types, as the underlying triggers and mechanisms can be comparable. Here’s a brief overview of how these strategies can be effective for various types of migraines:

  1. Identify and Avoid Triggers: This is universally beneficial for all types of migraines. Triggers can vary from person to person but often include factors like certain foods, stress, and environmental stimuli.
  2. Manage Stress: Stress is a common trigger for many migraine types. Techniques to reduce stress can therefore be beneficial across the board.
  3. Regular Sleep Schedule: Disrupted sleep patterns can exacerbate all kinds of migraines. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule helps regulate body rhythms that can influence migraine patterns.
  4. Hydration and Balanced Diet: Dehydration is a well-known migraine trigger. A balanced diet can help avoid deficiencies (like magnesium deficiency) that might contribute to migraines.
  5. Regular Exercise: Physical activity can improve overall health and stress resilience, which can be beneficial for migraine sufferers in general.
  6. Medications and Supplements: The effectiveness of medications and supplements can vary, but many are used to treat different types of migraines. For instance, magnesium supplements might be beneficial for both migraine with aura and without aura.
  7. Relaxation Techniques: Since stress and muscle tension can trigger migraines, relaxation techniques can be helpful for various types.
  8. Acupuncture: Acupuncture may provide relief for some people with migraines, regardless of the type, though individual responses can vary.
  9. Professional Advice: It’s always crucial to consult healthcare professionals for tailored advice, as migraine treatments can vary significantly based on the individual’s health, type of migraine, and other factors.

While these strategies are broadly applicable, the effectiveness and suitability can vary depending on individual circumstances and migraine characteristics. It’s always best to work closely with a healthcare provider to develop a personalized management plan.

Migraine Facts and Misconceptions

So there you have it – a deep dive into the world of migraines. We’ve busted some myths, talked about the impact of diet, and learned how migraines differ from other headaches.

Remember, every migraine sufferer’s experience is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another.

Migraines are complex, but understanding them is the first step toward managing them. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice. And don’t forget – you’re not alone in this. There’s a whole community out there understanding exactly what you’re going through.

Stay informed, stay healthy, and here’s to fewer migraine days!