Migraines: The disease that is usually mistaken for a headache

Have you ever got a ‘simple’ headache, a headache that seems to go away after a short period even without treatment, and yet it keeps recurring? Well, if you have such symptoms, you could be suffering from migraines.
Stress, depression, anxiety and hunger can trigger migraine.
Stress, depression, anxiety and hunger can trigger migraine.

Have you ever got a ‘simple’ headache, a headache that seems to go away after a short period even without treatment, and yet it keeps recurring? Well, if you have such symptoms, you could be suffering from migraines.

Dr Rachna Pande, a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital, says a migraine is a periodic disorder characterized by paroxysmal, severe unilateral vomiting, photophobia (with or without visual aura) and it recurs at regular intervals. 

According to Mayo Clinic, an international medical research group, a migraine headache can cause intense throbbing or a pulsing sensation in one area of the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can cause significant pain for hours to days and be so severe that all you can think about is finding a dark, quiet place to lie down.

In fact a recent research published by Mayo Clinic says women are three times more likely to get migraines than men. According to the study, 17% of women experience migraine as opposed to 6% of men. Furthermore, women experience migraines that are longer and more painful as compared to men.

Research also indicates that migraines normally affects young adults especially those that are ambitious and tense.

Causes and symptoms

Although the exact cause of migraine isn’t understood, genetic and environmental factors seem to play a role, says Dr Pande. “The exact cause is not known, but it’s due to neurovascular disturbance in the brain. Among the factors that are more likely to trigger the start of migraine is stress, depression, anxiety, hunger, cold and some foods contribute to it,” she says, adding that women are more prone to migraine than men.
Fortunately, there are early signs and symptoms that could point to migraines.

Dr. Ally Kambale of Kabaga Hospital in Western Province says: “Often the attacks are preceded by or associated with visual aura like colored halos, bright lights or spots in front of the eyes. Sometimes an attack may be associated with total blindness for the entire duration of the headache; this may be shocking for patients who are experiencing these symptoms for the first time.”

“Nausea and vomiting can occur with the attack, which can cause further disability in the individual. Attacks of migraine may decrease after one has rested in a quiet, dark room,” he says.

Kambale advises anyone suffering from migraines to immediately seek medical attention.

Prevention and management

Medics suggest that being physically and mentally relaxed as well as resting in a cool dark place helps a lot in preventing migraine. Avoiding situations likely to precipitate attacks of migraine is very important, because one knows from his or her past experiences what is likely to cause an attack. They add that remaining relaxed and avoiding trigger factors is ideal for its prevention.

Dr Pande says since migraine is said to be caused by an intracranial vasomotor phenomenon caused by emotional stress, there are several medicines used to provide relief.

“For treatment, ergot alkaloids, Beta-blockers sedatives and antidepressants are meant to abort the attacks.

Anxiolytic drugs and pain killers can also help, but these medications only suppress the pain during the attack.

They have no preventive function against further attacks, in fact prevention lies in the hands of the sufferer,” she says.

Kambale says diagnosis of migraine is made by excluding other causes of severe headache by imaging techniques and typical headaches.

“The only way of finding out if one is suffering from migraine is by the patient being interrogated by the doctor about the signs and symptoms they are experiencing, and about the family history of migraine. If one has never had the problem before, scanning of the brain will be better to find out if it’s really migraine,” he says.



6 tips for handling migraines at work

Migraines a disease, not a bad headache

Don’t minimise your migraine to “just a headache.” Migraine is a real medical condition like diabetes or asthma. It is a disease with a range of symptoms that are as debilitating as the pain itself.

Be your best advocate

Talk to a doctor about your migraines and how best to manage them. There are many effective new treatments for migraines, the newest of which are called triptans. They stop the migrainous process in the brain and quickly relieve the pain and other symptoms, like light sensitivity.

Make changes in your workplace

Make changes that reduce your susceptibility to migraine triggers. Ask co-workers to go easy on perfume and cologne, don’t consume too much caffeine, drink lots of water, don’t skip meals and use an anti-glare screen on your computer so your eyes don’t have to strain.

Be on the alert for early signs

Get to know your migraine patterns so you spot early signs of a migraine attack. Some people experience irritability, mild pain or nausea prior to a migraine. Take your medication early whenever possible. Sixty percent of migraineurs have early symptoms and can learn to recognize them.

Educate boss, co-workers about migraines

Creating understanding and awareness of migraines and their impact can cultivate support from the people you work with.

Recognize when your migraine condition is not under control

If migraines increasingly make you absent from work, force you to go home early, or impair your ability to do your job in any way, then they are probably not under control. Tell your doctor if your migraines are impacting you in your work. Together you can work on a treatment plan.



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