Migraine is a brain illness, which is characterized by pain at one side of one's head. The term migraine got its name from the Latin word Hemicrania, which means pain in half of the head. Migraine is an issue which is becoming more and more present in society. Despite this fact, some people are still sceptical about migraine.
However, migraine is a physical illness, which can have some psychological causes. Because migraine is a more intense type of headache, migraine can have a large impact on your life.
In this article we list the most important elements of migraine: the symptoms, the prevalence, the causes, and what you can do to reduce your migraine attack. At the end of each part you can even take a free self-test. This test can tell you to what extent psychological factors affect your migraine. because, while migraine is a physical illness, psychological causes are often the reason it occurs.
What is migraine?
Migraine is an illness, where regular intense attacks of headache occur. In the case of migraine, this headache often only takes place at one side of the head, and causes a pounding type of pain. However, migraine does not end with just headache. Symptoms such as nausea or vomiting are also very common. Physical activities can furthermore worsen the symptoms of migraine. It thus is not a good idea to plan an intensive workout if you have migraine. Except for physical activities, it is best to also avoid sound and light when you experience a migraine attack.
A migraine attack usually lasts between 4 and 72 hours. If medication or other treatment is used, the hours or frequency of the attacks can be reduced or eliminated. If you experience untreated attacks shorter than 4 hours in length, we technically do not consider the attacks to be migraine attacks.
If you have migraine, you will notice that your daily life can suffer severely from the migraine. For example, you need to cancel hanging out with friends. Going to bed at late hours is also often difficult, so having drinks late at night is not an option, either. Not only enjoyable activities are hindered by migraine, activities such as working can also severely suffer under migraine. If you experience frequent migraine attacks, they can make your life feel like a true nightmare. You constantly feel week and the pain controls your life.
How often does migraine occur?
Migraine is an illness, which occurs more commonly among women than among men. About 2-10% of men suffer from migraine, while this percentage lies around 5-25% in women. Furthermore, age also has an influence on the prevalence of migraine. It has been found that migraine attacks occur less often after the age of 50 has been reached. The age at which migraine develops can vary a lot. For example, children of 10 years old can already experience migraine. The prevalence of migraine among youths also seems to be increasing. A Scottish study for example showed that a whopping 11% of the children they studied between 5 and 15 years of age suffer from migraine.
Migraine vs. tension headaches?
It is often difficult to differentiate between migraine and tension headache. Tension headaches are a type of headache which are caused by tension of the muscles. Here, too, stress s a large cause. In the case of tension headaches, the muscles tense up, which can lead to a painful feeling. After a while, this tension can lead to migraine. In most cases it is so that the tension in the neck muscles leads to migraine.
The prevalence of tension headache in migraine patients is very high. It has been shown that 62% of the patients with migraine also experience tension headaches. This is not as true the other way around, though. Only 25% of patients with tension headaches also experience migraine. It thus occurs that people, without having been diagnosed with migraine, develop the symptoms because of constant muscular tension.
Risk factors of migraine?
There are certain risk factors which can cause a migraine to develop. It is useful to know these risk factors, so that you can eventually eliminate them from your life. For example, there are certain types of food which can cause a migraine.
You can eventually keep some type of diary for yourself, in order to test which risk factors cause migraine in your specific case. In that diary you can then write down if you have had an attack that day, as well as some specifications of that attacks such as at which side of the head, front or back,... Furthermore, you can then make a list of the risk factors of migraine, after which you can indicate what you have done or eaten during that day. After a while you might then start to see a pattern, and see which risk factors you can consider to be your personal risk factors.
It namely is so that the risk factors for migraine are not the same for everyone. For example, eating a tomato might cause a migraine in one person, while it has no effect at all in another. Below, you will find a list of the risk factors of migraine per category, so that you can find out which ones apply to you.
Certain changes in your environment could lead to migraine attacks. Below, you will find a list of the situations which can cause migraine:
- Changes in weather conditions
- Changes in daily schedule
- Skipping a meal
- Change in sleeping pattern
Sensor stimuli can also cause a migraine attack. Read more here about the different stimuli which can trigger migraine:
- Bright light
- Stimulating smells
- Loud noises
Stress as risk factor?
Stress is an important factor, which can lie at the basis of a migraine attack. Below we sum up several situations, where stress can lead to migraine:
- Periods of intense activity, both physical and mental
- Subsequent periods of rest
- Emotional tensions
- Crisis situations
Hormones can have a large influence on the development of migraine. Below, you will find a list of situations in which hormonal fluctuations can cause migraine:
- If taking the pill: pill-free days (sometimes continuous headache and migraine during pill days, but sometimes mainly during pill-free days)
Food as risk factor?
Certain types of food can also cause migraine. In some cases it is useful to follow a certain diet, where the foodstuffs mentioned below are avoided:
- In general, red wine is more dangerous than white wine, but for some patients this can be the other way around. Chianti and derivatives of red wine such as port, contain high tyramine levels and are best avoided. This also goes for champagne and Sherry. The other white alcohols tend to be less dangerous. Sometimes, beer or white wine in limited dosages are harmless.
- Pulp of citrus fruits, the juice is allowed in limited amounts
- Smoked herring or pickled herring
- Cheese types, especially fermented cheese and aged cheese. Cottage cheese and cream cheese hardly cause any problems. Young Dutch cheese can also be tried in limited portions.
- Chinese dishes with mono sodium glutamate (flavoring)
- Some freezer products with sodium glutamate
- Meat with nitrites, such as hotdogs and cold cuts
- Light products with aspartame, such as Cola Light
Migraine patients can sometimes be very sensitive to certain foodstuffs, while others are not. There is no rule of thumb when it comes to this. The diet must be considered to be a basic plan, which can be altered on a personal level, considering the very important individual differences. For example, tomatoes can cause migraines in some people, while most migraine sufferers are not affected at all by eating tomatoes. Except for the inter-individual differences, there also are intra-individual differences. For example, one and the same patients will sometimes be able to have a glass of red wine, for example during a stress-free period, while a limited amount of alcohol will cause attacks at another time, At that time, there most likely also are other factors at play, causing the migraine attack. Patients with migraine without aura are often more sensitive to dietary factors than patients with migraine with aura. The food stuffs with tyramine or additives are the ones which are most likely to cause attacks.
The different types of migraine?
Just like there are different risk factors of migraine, there also are different ways for migraine to express itself. For example, there is migraine with aura and migraine without aura. An aura is a category for symptoms, which cause focal neurological symptoms. These symptoms come before a migraine attack does. They warn you, as it were, that a migraine attack is on its way. Below, you will find more information about these symptoms and what the difference is between migraine with aura and without aura.
Migraine with aura?
A migraine attack can thus be announced by an aura. This type of warning occurs in about 15 to 25% of all cases. An aura consists of a characterizing symptom or several symptoms, which can disrupt physical functions. Migraine with and without aura can occur in a mixed way. There thus is no guarantee that, just because you experience an aura once, you will do so again the next time too.
An aura is characterized by either one symptom or several symptoms which temporarily affect different bodily functions. The following symptoms can indicate an aura:
- Disruption of the purview
- Tingling sensations in the face, hands, or lips. These tingling sensations generally occur on one side.
- Disorder of the muscles, also on one side
- Disorderly speaking
We can consider something to be an aura if at least one of the symptoms mentioned above builds up over at least 5 minutes. An aura usually takes 60 minutes. When different aura symptoms occur together, it can be so that the aura takes longer than 60 minutes.
Other warning symptoms?
Except for aura symptoms there also are symptoms which can warn you that an attack will manifest. Examples hereof are:
- Depressed feelings
- Manic feelings
- A craving for specific foodstuffs
Migraine without aura?
A migraine attack can also occur without first having aura symptoms. The symptoms of the migraine attack itself can then still be experienced in the same way. The only difference thus is that the attack is not preceded by an aura. It is not a guarantee that, once you experience an aura once, you will experience an aura the next time as well. In a single person, both types can occur in a mixed way. It can be so that certain risk factors of migraine lead to an aura and that others lead to migraine without aura. It can therefore be useful to not down when an aura occurs, and which risk factors were applicable that day. This way you can recognize patterns.
What are the symptoms of migraine?
Of course everyone knows that migraine is characterized by headache. What some people do not know, however, is that migraine is more than just a headache. For example, vomiting also often goes together with a migraine attack. It is useful to know these symptoms, It can namely help you to prevent an attack. Furthermore, if you are as of yet unsure whether or not you have migraine, it can help you to find a cause of your headache. Because migraine is not yet well-known as an illness, a diagnosis can sometimes take a long time to get.
First off, migraine occurs in several phases, of which two consist of warnings that an attack is on its way. Not everyone will experience the same symptms or go through the same phases. That is why the following symptoms are general symptoms, which people experience in migraine. You can eventually find out for yourself which symptoms you generally experience during an attack. This way you can learn more about the type of migraine which you have and how you can deal with it.
How are we warned for an attack?
The first phase of migraine
As mentioned earlier, there are several symptoms which warn that a migraine is coming up. THe first phase often occurs much earlier than the experience of an attack. The following signs can indicate an attack:
- Feeling restless
- Being irritable
- Being extremely happy
- Feeling very fatigued
- Frequent yawning
- Experiencing a craving for a certain type of food, such as sweets
- Being hypersensitive to smell, noise, and light
- Suffering from fluid retention in, for example, ankles and hands
The second phase
The next phase then either does or does not consist of experiencing an aura. Aura symptoms are symptoms which temporarily affect bodily functions. These symptoms, too, indicate that a migraine attack is on its way. Generally, these symptoms occur an hour before the attack:
- Flashes of light
- Dark spots in your vision
- Having difficulties finding words
- Experiencing a numb feeling
- Not feeling well
The third phase
The third phase is the actual attack. A migraine attack can have different symptoms and intensities. The following symptoms are characteristic in a migraine attack:
- Intense headache, usually on one side
- Paralyzed feeling in certain body parts, usually on one side
- Fatigued feeling
- Having difficulties with simple functions such as concentration and memory
- Feeling nauseous
- Muscle ache
- Pain when moving
- Hypersensitivity to stimuli
The causes of migraine? How does migraine develop?
Even though many people suffer from migraine, not all causes have yet been identified. Migraine furthermore does not just have one cause, but rather can have several causes. Except for knowing these causes, it then even is difficult to connect all these causes to each other.
The neurological process behind migraine?
Some people believe that migraine is a psychological illness. However, this is not the case. Migraine is caused by a neurological process, which takes place in the brain. An attack develops due to a neural stimulus, which takes place in the brain. This stimulus in turn makes it so that the blood vessels expand. This causes the pain which we experience during a migraine attack. This is also why migraine does not feel like a normal headache.
The familial heritability behind migraine?
Migraine is a physical illness which can also be inherited by family members. Chances of you getting migraine are increased when a family member also suffers migraine.
Blood circulation and infections as the cause?
Other researches believe a disrupted blood circulation and infections to be the cause of migraine. They say that people with migraine have a very sensitive blood circulation. They also talk about spasms and vasolidatation of the blood vessels, which could form the cause of the pain. Except for pain, vasolidatation also causes something else. It namely is linked to certain substances which can cause inflections. These infections, too, cause pain.
Emotion and stress as cause?
While migraine is not a psychological illness, emotions and stress can trigger an attack. Thanks to the overly sensitive blood vessels, stress and emotions can cause a poor reaction, which in turn can cause the contraction of blood vessels. Because of this response, too much serotonin is released, which can cause spasms of the blood vessels.
Menstruation and migraine?
A whopping 60% of women with migraine suffer migraine attacks when they menstruate. The reduction of estrogen can, according to some researches, namely cause migraine. Migraine also seems to occur more often after the menopause. 25% experience an increase in attacks, while 50% do not notice any differences. Pregnancies have a positive influence on migraine.
We already know that tension headaches often occur with migraine. This type of headache is caused by muscular tension. Migraine can thus also be caused by muscular tension, such as eye fatigue. If you have to focus your eyes for a long period of time, this can cause migraine.
Migraine in children?
Unfortunately, migraine can already occur in children. The good news, however, is that migraine does not occur as often in children as it does in adults.
How do I recognize migraine in children?
It is difficult to recognize migraine in children. First of all, they often have difficulties expressing themselves. This makes describing pain rather difficult. Furthermore, children are confronted with many different life phases in a short period of time. Stress and confusion therefore are a large part of the life of children. Migraine is not always easy to differentiate from this.
Migraine in children reduces or disappears when they reach puberty. What is contradictory is that girls often start to suffer migraine during puberty. Researches namely found a connection between depression and migraine in girls in puberty.
Does it differ from migraine in adults?
Migraine in children does indeed differ from migraine in adults. For example, attacks in children tend to last shorter than those in adults. Furthermore, migraine in children tends to express itself on both sides of the head, while one-sided migraine is more common in adults.
A solution for migraine in children?
There are different treatment methods for migraine in children. When it comes to medication, children of course cannot take the same medication that adults do. Age plays an important role in this as well.
Are you rather looking for a non-medicated treatment? "15Minutes4Me.com" developed an online self-help program, which can be followed by children with a large vocabulary and/or support from parents. The program guides the child on a daily basis in dealing with the influence and risk factors of migraine, and also helps the child develop a better self-image.
A diagnosis migraine?
Just like in other illnesses, there are some criteria linked to migraine. Below, the criteria are split up into two types of migraine: migraine with aura and without aura.
Migraine without aura?
A diagnosis migraine without aura includes at least 5 migraine attacks which need to comply with the following criteria:
1. The attacks take 4-72 hours, in case they are left untreated or are not treated successfully.
2. The headache is
- Gives a pounding feeling
- Mildly to severely disrupts daily activities
- Gets worse during physical exertion or when avoiding physical activit.
3. The headache is accompanied by at least 1 of the following symptoms:
- Being hypersensitive to light and noise
4. The symptoms above cannot be caused by another disorder.
Migraine with aura?
A diagnosis migraine with aura contains at least 2 migraine attacks with the following criteria:
1. The aura contains at least 1 of the following symptoms:
- Visual disorders, such as black spots
- Sensor disorders, such as tingling sensations
- Temporary speech impediment
2. Contains at least 2 of the following symptoms:
- Double-sided visual issues and/or One-sided sensor disorders
- The intensifying of at least 1 aura symptom during 5 minutes and/or the following up of several aura symptoms during 5 minutes.
3. Every aura symptom takes about 5 minutes, but no longer than an hour.
4. The headache complies to the criteria 1-3 with the diagnosis migraine without aura. The headache must express itself during the aura or come after the aura within an hour.
5. The symptoms above cannot be caused by another disorder.
How do I prevent migraine?
Unfortunately you cannot heal migraine. A treatment for migraine thus consists of trying to prevent migraine attacks. This way, you can strengthen yourself psychologically and physically in order to be more resistant to migraine attacks. Below, we sum up the most important tips and tricks used to prevent migraine!
If you want to prevent migraine, it is useful to be sure that migraine is what is the issue and that migraine is the main cause. Some other illnesses can namely cause migraine symptoms or seem a lot like a migraine attack. In that case you cannot prevent migraine by using these tips and tricks, and should you instead deal with the underlying illness in order to prevent migraine.
If you have been diagnosed with migraine, you can then start your personal way. First off, it is useful to learn more about the illness of migraine in general. For example, you can ask your doctors about brochures, or look for more information yourself. When you have more knowledge about what migraine entails exactly, you will find that this can help you in preventing migraine.
The last step of the plan is gaining insight into your personal illness. Migraine namely expresses itself differently in everyone. For example, one person might get a migraine from eating tomatoes, and another from menstruating.
The migraine diary helps you take the next step!
You can gain more insight into your personal illness by keeping a migraine diary. By filling this out on a daily basis, you can link risk factors to migraine. After a month or several months you can then recognize a structure in this. The following elements can be useful to take up in your migraine diary:
- What you have eaten
- What you have done
- When your attack starts
- Which pains you experience during the attack, for example a pounding headache, vomiting,...
- The duration of the attack
- What medication you use
- Which risk factors are applicable, for example having eaten chocolate, having played sports,...
How do you apply this knowledge to prevent migraine?
This diary will help you to recognize patterns. For example, you can link food to your migraine attacks. If migraine is caused by certain types of food, it is useful to keep a dietary list. You can then avoid these types of food in order to prevent your migraine. If, for example, sporting for a long while is the cause of your migraine, you can limit your workout to an hour.
Of course not all risk factors can be avoided, such as your menstruation. However, you can make the situation more pleasant for yourself. Instead of planning a lot during that day, you might instead plan a calm day at home, so that you can rest whenever necessary, for example.
How do you treat migraine?
There are different techniques when it comes to treating migraine. For example, there is specific medication which can help you with migraine. There also are non-medicated alternatives, such as acupuncture and stress-reducing techniques.
Medication and migraine?
Preventive medication? The following medications can be used in order to prevent migraine and migraine attacks:
- Sodium Valproate
Note: the last two options can cause serious side effects.
Medication to take during an attack?
Below you will find an overview of medication which can relieve migraine attacks, including their recommended dosage.
Light medication for migraine
Normal medication for migraine
Strong medication for migraine
Triptane does not go well together with the following medication:
- Serotonergic TCA's
- St. John's wort
- MAO blockers
Medication can play an important role when you want to treat your migraine. Except for migraine, stress-reducing techniques also are a useful part of a treatment migraine. There namely are several psychological causes for migraine, such as stress. Stress can make it so that our muscles tense up, which with time can lead to migraine. The majority of the migraine patients suffer from both migraine as well as tension headaches. Therapeutic techniques are thus a key element in the treatment of migraine.
There are different ways in which you can deal with psychological factors. For example, there are workshops, which teach you relaxation techniques. Going to a psychologist is another way you help you deal with stress. Except for these options there also is the online self-help program by "15Minutes4Me.com". This program was developed in cooperation with psychologists and doctors, in order to help you daily in dealing with stress. The program contains relaxation techniques, breathing techniques, and videos, which explain more to you about the mechanism of stress. It also teaches you how you can integrate all these techniques into your daily life so that you also reduce your chances of stress after finishing the program. Recent research shows that stress reduces by 70% on average after one month of using "15Minutes4Me.com".
Aside from working on stress, "15Minutes4Me.com" can also help you to increase your pain threshold. That way, you will experience less migraine attacks due to higher pain threshold.
Migraine is often caused/triggered by psychological factors. By working on these factors, you can increase your pain threshold, decrease the frequency and duration of migraine attacks and strenghten your body. For example, by working on your stress level, you can fight migraine attacks, you learn to recognize warnings, indicating a migraine attack. Learn today how to:
- Eliminate pain and migraine attacks
- Recognize alarm signals. This can help you decrease pain, duration and frequency of your migraine attacks.
- Prevent migraine to strengthen your mind and body
You can discover today how you can influences causes of migraine and how to live a balanced life with less migraine.
Furthermore, recent studies show an average stress decrease of 70% after one month of '15Minutes4Me.com'.