Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Mark Khorsandi who works with the Migraine Relief Center which has several offices across the nation that offer a variety of treatment options including surgery, injections, and alternative options. Be sure to check out his site for more information
Along with the pain and emotional side effects of chronic migraines, the last thing a person wants during an attack is to hear someone say, “I understand. I get headaches every now and then too.” Although this is said out of empathy and no harm is meant by it, you and all other migraine sufferers know that a migraine is not a typical headache.
Adding to the frustration, is the fact that migraines cannot be seen from the outside. Because of this, not only is the pain intensity and the accompanying symptoms difficult for others to understand, but it can also be quite challenging to convince them that you are even suffering from a migraine in the first place.
So how do you help others to understand? As with most education, it is best to start with the basics.
What Is A Migraine?
The first question a curious loved one may ask is, “How do you know it’s not just a headache?”
Although migraines do fall under the same category as headaches, their characteristics are much different. First of all, unlike most headaches which are normally felt on both sides of the head, migraines typically focus on one side only. They also cause severe, intense throbbing or pulsing pain which can last from hours to weeks.
To make the situation worse, migraines are usually accompanied by a wide range of unpleasant symptoms such as blurred vision, vomiting, nausea and sensitivity to lights, smells and sounds. They can also cause stress, irritability and depression.
What Causes Chronic Migraines?
Another question you may hear is, “Why do you get them so often?”
Chronic migraines are often associated with genetics, such as skeletal imbalance problems, issues within the jaw joint or environmental factors. Unfortunately, until the root cause is discovered and corrected the migraines will likely continue.
- Genetic Factors: Any type of misalignment above the shoulders, including the skull, jaw or neck can cause unusual activity in the trigeminal and facial nerves. When these nerves are irritated, the surrounding muscles experience unusual and chronic contraction. This leads to abnormal blood flow in the brain and ultimately to migraines.
- Environmental Factors: Although genetics are likely the main cause for most sufferers, migraines can also be triggered by several environmental factors. A few of the main culprits are stress, dehydration, poor sleep, diet, lights, smells and hormones, such as menstrual cycles and menopause.
Types of Migraines
Occasionally you may hear statements such as, “My friend has migraines too, but she never complains about nausea.”
That very well could be true, but this is the perfect time to let them know that there are actually five different types of chronic migraines. Furthermore, each of those types comes with its own unique pain sensations and symptoms.
This is one of the few migraines that can be felt on both sides of your head, as well as on the back. Along with the severe stabbing or throbbing pain, many sufferers also experience visual disturbances, confusion, balance loss and an inability to speak.
With this type of migraine, often the first symptom is partial or full loss of vision in one eye, which can last up to an hour and occur as early as 18 hours before the migraine strikes. The rhythmic throbbing or pulsing pain is usually accompanied with sensitivity to light.
Frightening stroke-like symptoms often precede the severe throbbing pain of a hemiplegic migraine. These symptoms can include loss of consciousness, nausea, confusion, dizziness, numbness and slurred speech.
The transformed migraine, although typically less intense than the others, can occur daily. The steady ache, throbbing or tension sensation felt from this migraine is often accompanied by symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity and nausea.
Since this type of migraine strikes without pain, it can be more difficult than the others to self-diagnose. However, the symptoms are the same and can be just as debilitating. With a silent migraine, you will likely experience visual disturbances, sensitivity to sound and light, confusion and nausea.
The final question is one that almost every migraine sufferer has probably heard. “Why won’t you just take an aspirin?”
Unlike normal headaches, migraines do not always respond to standard over the counter medications. Instead, many migraine sufferers must take prescription drugs to relieve their symptoms. Others look for relief in home remedies, massage, Botox and for the most severe cases, surgery.
Friends and loved ones ask questions out of both curiosity and concern, but finding the right way to answer them is sometimes difficult, especially during a migraine attack. Fortunately, now you will be more equipped to explain to others exactly what you are experiencing. Better yet, you can lay your head down, put an eye mask on and say, “Here. Read this.”