There is nothing worse than having plans or getting ready to go somewhere, but you are stopped by a migraine! I know this first-hand. I seem to get them a little more often certain times of the year, and it’s really frustrating and painful. I’ve had to just hang out in a dark room for hours, and that is not fun! I reached out to Christian Gausvik, MD
, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Primary Care
, to get some answers about migraine headaches and why I may be getting them.
What exactly is a migraine?
This was my first question, and according to Dr. Gausvik, a migraine is a severe form of headache usually accompanied by nausea, light or sound sensitivity. They are complex, and the causes are not fully understood, though it is thought to involve imbalances in brain chemicals and other nervous system changes.
Is it a migraine or just a headache?
This is something that I always wonder when I feel one coming on. I will sometimes get a stiff neck and experience tingling in my hands. Dr. Gausvik let me know that I am not alone. He says, “Migraines are more complex than headaches and typically involve something called a prodrome and aura. The prodrome is a set of symptoms that may vary by person and is a sort of warning the migraine is coming. These may include mood changes, certain food cravings, or neck stiffness. The aura occurs in about 25% of patients and can be flashes of light or numbness and tingling in the face or limbs. Migraines are also different than headaches because they tend to cause throbbing pain on only one side of the head and typically are aggravated by light or sound.” He also said that migraines could cause changes in vision like blurring, bright spots or flashes of light. Learning this made me feel better because sometimes these oncoming symptoms can be scary.
What triggers migraines?
I’m starting to learn that there are certain things that seem to cause my migraines more often. The big one? Caffeine! I used to be a big diet soda drinker and, yes, the ones loaded with caffeine and, yes, I was getting migraines big time. Once I stopped drinking them, I noticed I didn’t get them as often. Dr. Gausvik says that caffeine may trigger migraines but also alcohol, aspartame and foods containing nitrites may trigger them as well. So, I know what to avoid, but I also wondered if hormonal changes play a factor in the frequency of migraines. He said, “Migraines may be triggered by the normal decrease in estrogen that occurs before a period. The treatment for these is the same but may also include oral contraceptive pills.”
When is it time to see a doctor?
There have been times when I wondered if it was time to call my doctor. Because, to be honest, migraines are not only painful, but they can be scary. Sometimes you are wondering what is going on. Dr. Gausvik told me that you should see your doctor for any regular headaches or recurring headaches or any change in headache pattern to rule out serious causes and discuss treatment. He also suggested that you should keep a diary of your symptoms and bring it in at your appointment. The good news is that there are treatments, and your doctor can help you with that. Dr. Gausvik says, “Migraines can be treated with medications to prevent them, or as needed, medications to stop the symptoms, but also by identifying triggers and avoiding them. Migraines are also sometimes treated with Botox injections or lifestyle changes.”
What can I do on my own to prevent migraines?
Migraines are basically my least favorite thing! I will do whatever I can prevent having one. The best advice Dr. Gausvik gave me was to make lifestyle changes. That’s good advice for me overall! He says getting good sleep and eating well can help prevent migraines—and getting exercise can help as well.
So, overall, I know what I need to do! I need to keep track of my symptoms and what I eat or drank leading up to a migraine. I also need to keep hitting my treadmill. Trust me…these are all things I plan on doing, and (fingers crossed) I will not be dealing with them as often.
Need a primary care expert to help you with managing migraines or other health concerns? Schedule an appointment online or find a provider near you today.