When there is pressure or pain in your head, it can be difficult to tell whether you are experiencing a typical headache or a migraine. Differentiating a migraine headache from a traditional headache, and vice versa is important. It can mean faster relief through better treatments. It can also help prevent future headaches from occurring in the first place. When people hear the term ‘migraine,’ they often think of a severe headache. What they don’t always know is that migraine is a neurological disease and that there are several subtypes of migraine.
Types of Migraines
Migraine with Aura (Complicated Migraine): About a quarter of people who experience migraine also experience an aura, a series of sensory and visual changes that can range from seeing black dots and zig zags to tingling numbness on one side of the body, or an inability to speak clearly.
Migraine without Aura (Common Migraine): Diagnosing migraine without aura can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to several other types of migraine. Pulsing or throbbing pain on one side of the head, photophobia, phonophobia, pain that is made worse by physical activity, and nausea and vomiting are all classic symptoms of Migraine without Aura.
Migraine Without Head Pain: Also called a Silent or Acephalgic Migraine, this type of migraine can be very alarming as you experience the dizzying aura and other visual disturbances, nausea, and other phases of a migraine, but no head pain.
Hemiplegic Migraine: People who experience this type of migraine develop weakness on one side of the body, often with visual aura symptoms and a “pins and needles” sensation, or loss of sensation, on one side of the body. It can last for as little as a few hours to several days.
Retinal Migraine: When a headache causes you to temporarily lose vision in one eye, it is a Retinal Migraine. Most common in women during their childbearing years, the blindness can last anywhere from a minute to months but is usually fully reversible.
Chronic Migraine: If you have a headache more than 15 days a month, you’re probably suffering from chronic migraine. Many of the days often feel like typical migraine, but there may be considerable variability in the severity of the symptoms and head pain on any given day.
Ice Pick Headaches: Ice pick headaches are pretty self-explanatory. They feel like you’re getting stabbed in the head with an ice pick. They often come on suddenly, delivering an intense, sharp pain. They’re short–usually only lasting 5-30 seconds–but incredibly painful.
Cervicogenic headache: When the pain in your head is actually caused by pain in your neck, you probably have a cervicogenic headache. The pain usually comes from the neck or from a lesion on the spine, which is often confused with pain in the back of your head.
Symptoms of Migraines
The symptoms of migraine include:
- Headache pain. Pain is described as a pounding or throbbing. It can begin as a dull ache that develops into throbbing pain. The pain worsens with physical activity.
- Sensitivity to light, noise and odours.
- Nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain.
- Loss of appetite.
- Feeling very warm (sweating) or cold (chills).
- Pale colour (pallor).
- Feeling tired.
- Blurred vision.
- Tender scalp.
- Diarrhoea (rare).
- Fever (rare).
Causes of Migraines
The pain you feel during a headache comes from a mix of signals between your brain, blood vessels, and nearby nerves. Specific nerves in your blood vessels and head muscles switch on and send pain signals to your brain. But it isn’t clear how these signals get turned on in the first place. Common causes of headaches include:
Illness: This can include infections, colds, and fevers. Headaches are also common with conditions like sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), a throat infection, or an ear infection.
Stress: Emotional stress and depression as well as alcohol use, skipping meals, changes in sleep patterns, and taking too much medication.
Your environment: including second-hand tobacco smoke, strong smells from household chemicals or perfumes, allergens, and certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are other possible triggers.
Genetics: Most children and teens (90%) who have migraines have other family members who get them. When both parents have a history of migraines, there is a 70% chance their child will also have them. If only one parent has a history of these headaches, the risk drops to 25%-50%.
Too much physical activity can also trigger a migraine in adults.
Treatment for Migraines
Many drugs can treat or even prevent them. Common migraine treatments include:
Pain relief: Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs often work well. The main ingredients are acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine, and ibuprofen. Never give aspirin to anyone under the age of 19 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Nausea medicine: Your doctor can prescribe medication if you get nausea with your migraine.
Triptans: These drugs balance the chemicals in your brain. You might get a pill to swallow, tablets you dissolve on your tongue, a nasal spray, or a shot.
Ergotamine: This also works on the chemicals in your brain.
Lasmiditan (Rey vow): This drug eases pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light or sound.
CGRP receptor antagonists: Your doctor might give you rimegepant (Nurtec) or ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) if other treatments don’t help.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): You place this device on the back of your head at the start of migraine with aura. It sends a pulse of magnetic energy to a part of your brain, which may stop or reduce pain.
Once you start a treatment program, keep track of how well it’s working. Even though you’re getting treatment, you should still steer clear of the things you know can trigger your headaches, like foods or smells. And it’s important to stick to healthy habits that will keep you feeling good, like regular exercise, enough sleep, and a healthy diet. For further related ideas, the Neurology Department of Medisys Hospital helps you to deal with the clinical study and diagnosis of the problems of the brain.