An estimated 2.7 million Canadians (18% of women, 6% of men, and 10% of children) have been diagnosed with migraines – a debilitating disorder that is often characterized as throbbing and/or pulsating headaches. Many of those who have been diagnosed with this oftentimes debilitating condition say that their migraines have a major impact on their daily lives – from their ability to get out of bed, carry out work and educational obligations, and even their social interactions. While not all migraines are the same, they usually tend to occur on one side of the head – though they can also be bilateral (this is more common in children.)
A migraine headache can come in many stages, including:
The prodrome stage (also known as the premonitory phase or a “preheadache”) doesn’t always occur before every migraine. However, someone who does develop this stage of a migraine can include symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, muscle stiffness, mood changes (including everything trouble focusing to irritability and depression), as well as other more unique symptoms, like frequent yawning, increased urination, and food cravings – while it can also be triggered by certain foods. During the prodrome stage, there are a few recommendations you can make in effort to help decrease the severity of a looming migraine, such as avoiding any known triggers (keeping a regular headache/migraine diary can be helpful to determine what your triggers may be), relaxation therapy (including medication), and taking medication if necessary. The prodrome stage can last for several hours up to several days.
The next phase of a migraine is aura, which is an indicator of a migraine – though similar to that of the prodrome stage, not everyone who experiences migraines will experience this aura phase. During the aura phase, symptoms that one experiences can include blurred vision or loss of vision, blind spots, flashing lights or what are often described as “floaters”, and the appearance of strange patterns (sometimes described as being geometric.) These symptoms can last anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes, though there are instances where the aura phase can last longer. In rare cases, aura can also occur after the migraine has already developed.
Following the aura phase is the headache phase of the migraine – although unlike the average headache, a migraine is typically much worse in both severity and symptoms (but this can vary from person to person.) While some individuals may describe their migraines as being “mild” in nature, others can experience migraines that are incredibility painful and even debilitating. As previously mentioned, a migraine tends to occur on one side of the head or be bilateral. Migraines can also shift from side to side. Along with throbbing pain, migraines can also cause nausea and vomiting, and you can also have trouble sleeping, be sensitive to light, certain sounds, and certain scents, and may even find that you are anxious. Migraines can be triggered by many things, such as stress, certain foods you eat (i.e. chocolate), and even partaking in physical activity.
Believe it or not, migraines can be quite hard on the body and you may find yourself feeling more fatigued than usual following one. This is known as the postdrome or “migraine hangover” phase, which occurs in approximately 80% of migraine sufferers. Along with fatigue, you may experience other postdrome-related symptoms, such as general body aches and pains, dizziness, lack of concentration, a depressed or euphoric mood. Symptoms of postdrome can last anywhere from 24 to 48 hours – and while the migraine may be gone, it’s still important that you avoid any possible triggers to prevent the migraine from reoccurring and try to engage activities that relax you, avoid stress, and drink plenty of water.
As for what causes migraines, the reasons vary from person to person. They can be hereditary, caused by certain triggers (foods and smells, as mentioned), the result of sinus infections, while women can also develop migraines during PMS. If your migraines happen to be chronic in nature, this usually warrants further evaluation from a medical professional – such as your family physician – who may refer you to see a neurologist to rule out any other potential causes.