Headaches in general are not enjoyable, but experiencing a migraine can be downright debilitating. Some people experience migraines frequently enough to require regular medication, while others may only have them occasionally, and the causes and triggers can be due to a number of factors as individual as the person. Having a better understanding of migraines and what may be causing yours will help you treat them more effectively or know when it’s time to reach out for help.

What are Migraines?

Migraines are intense headaches that often cause severe throbbing pain or pulsing, typically focused within one side of the head that makes it difficult to accomplish regular daily activities. Some people will experience nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound during a migraine attack, and the symptoms can last anywhere from hours to days. Those who have migraines may have started getting them in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.

Migraine Stages

A migraine will usually not come on abruptly, but instead, begin in stages. It is important to note that not everyone will experience each stage prior to, during, or after a migraine.

  • Prodrome: This stage takes place one to two days prior to a migraine. It is a sort of warning that one is coming, and symptoms may include constipation, mood changes ranging from depression to euphoria, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and urination, and frequent yawning.
  • Aura: This can occur just before or even during a migraine attack. Most of the time, they are a visual disturbance, such as shapes, bright spots, or light flashes, but can present in different ways. It will usually begin slowly and continue to build, lasting anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes. Typical auras include visual disturbance, vision loss, a sensation of pins and needles in an arm or leg, weakness or numbness of the face or one side of the body, difficulty speaking, hearing noises or music, or uncontrollable movements.
  • Attack: The actual migraine attack lasts anywhere from four to 72 hours if left untreated. The pain will usually be focused on one side of the head, but may include both sides, and feels like throbbing or pulsing. Many individuals become sensitive to light, sound, and occasionally smells or touches. Nausea or vomiting may also occur.
  • Post-drome: After a migraine attack has subsided, the person is often left feeling drained, confused or “washed out” for up to an entire day, although a few may actually have a feeling of euphoria. Although it is over, it is possible to experience pain with sudden head movement, so it is recommended to take it easy for a bit after.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Although migraines are painful and can affect daily life, they are typically not emergency situations. Visit the emergency room immediately if you have a severe headache that comes on abruptly like a “thunderclap”; a headache accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking; a headache after a head injury, particularly if it is worsening; a chronic headache that worsens with coughing, exertion, straining or sudden movement; or if you are over the age of 50 and experience a new headache pain.

Those who experience occasional migraines usually go undiagnosed by a medical professional, and may choose to use over-the-counter pain medications if one should occur. However, if you experience migraines regularly, it is important to discuss with your doctor to determine if a prescription or treatment plan is needed to minimize attacks.

At Decatur County Memorial Hospital, our Neurology department is here to help with your migraine concerns. There is no need to suffer through the pain, or miss out on entire days with friends and family due to regular migraine attacks. We offer comprehensive treatment to help diagnose and treat your unique situation. Contact us today to set up an appointment and take back control over your migraines.