Migraine headaches are often mistakenly thought of as just a very bad headache. However, migraine comprises a very distinct set of symptoms, and is largely considered a neurological disorder involving the neuro-vasculature – the blood flow to and from the brain and brain stem. Genetic and environmental factors each contribute to the likelihood of experiencing migraine headache.

Causes and Triggers of Migraine

The exact mechanism of migraine is not clear, although abnormal neuronal activity within the brain and dysfunction of the blood vessels that supply the brain, are thought to be involved. However, most people report having a “trigger” that will elicit symptoms up to 24 hours following exposure. Triggers include:

  • Diet: foods, alcohol, additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners or fasting/skipping a meal
  • Sensory stimuli: bright or flashing light, loud noise, strong or specific odours
  • Hormonal changes: oestrogen fluctuation during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause
  • Sleep disturbance: altered sleep patterns and jetlag
  • Weather: changes in conditions and barometric pressure
  • Intense physical exertion
  • Medications
  • Stress

Symptoms of Migraine

The symptoms of migraine can range from mild to severe, and their recurrence may decrease with age, and during pregnancy. Symptoms of migraine typically include:

  • Aura – a third of migraine sufferers experience transient visual, sensory or motor disturbances, called “aura” that precede the headache.
  • Throbbing, aching pain, usually on one side of the head
  • Pain that increases over 1-2 hours and can last for 1-2 days
  • Associated neck and back pain
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision and fatigue
  • In some cases, impaired function/grogginess for 1-2 days after the episode

Treatment and management

Migraines require investigation by your GP who can prescribe medications to control pain, and possibly prevent severe migraines. The following can also help:

  • Rest in a quiet dark, room
  • A cold pack/face-washer on the head can provide relief
  • Avoid bright light/screen time
  • Keep hydrated.
  • Avoid known triggers

Additionally, your osteopath can assist with the following:

  • Osteopathic treatment of associated muscle pain and spasm
  • Identification of ergonomic, training or lifestyle factors that may trigger migraine
  • Ergonomic and postural intervention
  • Prescribing preventative exercises and stretches

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