What Causes Migraines?
While both men and women experience migraines, women are more likely to experience them. Migraines are twice as common in women as they are in men. Whatever your gender, the experience of migraines can be a serious distraction from your work or social life. Symptoms of a migraine attack often include throbbing pain in one or both sides of the head, a strong sensitivity to light, as well as nausea and vomiting. So, what causes them?
Not caffeine! That is the first myth about migraines that we should do away with. While an unusual amount of caffeine can trigger a migraine episode, caffeine alone is not enough. Another misconception is that headache medicine will cure migraines. This isn’t the best way to think about it, as migraines cannot be “cured.” Instead, it’s better to use phrases like “prevent migraines” and “control symptoms.” Medicines can help us accomplish these goals, but any product claiming to cure migraines forever is probably a hoax.
Realistically, your family history and age will play a more significant role than caffeine. Specifically, around 80% of people who experience migraines have a close relative with the same condition. For example, if only one of two parents has experienced migraines, there is a 50% chance that their child will have them as well. Other influential factors besides family history include stress, changes in sleep, some food additives, and hormonal changes in women.
Another myth is that migraines can cause brain damage. While the pain of a migraine episode might make this scary idea seem plausible, there is no evidence that brain damage will result from migraines. And while there is a risk of stroke associated with migraines, that risk is extremely small – only 1 or 2 out of 100,000 people will experience this.
What Can I Do?
Fortunately, just because your family has passed migraines down to you doesn’t mean you have to suffer forever. There are steps you can take to manage the symptoms of migraines, and we’re going to discuss those in the next few paragraphs.
Medication is one approach to treating migraines, but we should understand that there are two different categories of migraine medication. The abortive category should be taken at the first signs of an oncoming migraine, and these medications should decrease your symptoms. The other category of medication is designed to reduce the frequency and severity of headaches for people with more than four migraines per month. Another myth we can dismiss is that pregnant women cannot take migraine medication. While some medications designed for migraines are not safe for pregnant women, others are safe and will help ease the discomfort.
Since migraines often make you sensitive to things like harsh light or loud sounds, finding a private environment with soft lighting should go a long way in helping you tolerate the discomfort. Temperature therapy, such as ice packs or washcloths rinsed in warm water, can have a helpful numbing or relaxing effect. These are some of the best strategies for managing or reducing your discomfort during an episode.
But is there anything you can do to prevent migraines? Yes! You can organize three huge areas of your lifestyle to reduce the chance of experiencing migraines. The first is sleep. Establishing regular sleep hours, going through a relaxing routine at the end of the day, and eliminating distractions in your bedroom will all help you get a better, more consistent night’s sleep. This will keep away any migraines that a poor night’s sleep might trigger.
In addition to sleep, your diet and exercise habits can also play a role in fighting off migraines. The chemicals that your brain releases during exercise often alleviate anxiety and depression, which can predict migraine episodes. Cardio activities like walking, running, or biking are especially helpful!
The most important eating habit to maintain to avoid migraines is consistent mealtimes. Missing a meal entirely is one of the most common migraine triggers for people who already have the condition. Eat regularly and choose foods other than cheese, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol (which can sometimes trigger migraines) to give yourself the upper hand.
A Final Word
No matter what strategy you use, you’re not alone in the fight against migraines. While this genetically inherited condition cannot be cured forever, knowing how migraines affect you and exposing myths about them is a great way to reduce your discomfort and stay engaged with your life. Stay tuned for more!