Migraine is one of those problems associated with early to mid life and patients suffering from migraine need to be told that although the condition may be distressing, it is not medically serious.
SOME people, especially teenagers or those in their twenties, often get recurrent headaches which are usually severe and are even frequently accompanied by vomiting . Their friends or parents often wonder what is wrong with them and ask repeatedly why they are so “unfortunate”. Those young people are usually suffering from migraine.
1. What is migraine?
Migraine is a type of improper functioning of the central nervous system which manifests as widespread body disturbances, some of which are painful and some of which are not. The most disturbing feature of this syndrome is the periodic headache usually referred to simply as migraine. Migraine headaches differ from headaches due to other causes by having its own characteristic features.
2. What causes migraine?
The underlying cause of the headache in migraine is the dilatation (enlargement) of some of the vessels carrying blood to certain parts of the brain, why these blood vessels should dilate during certain periods and become normal at other periods are not known but what is known for sure is that anything that can cause blood vessels to narrow down during an attack would bring relief. Also, it is known that some emotional disturbance and eating certain types of foods may precipitate an attack. However the particular food item that would precipitate migraine is one individual may be different from that of another person. Most migraine subjects tend to be obsessional in whatever they are doing and their attacks typically occurs during periods of relaxation which follows spells of intensive activities, thus “weekend migraine” is quite common.
In some ladies, their attacks occur just before their monthly periods begin.
3. Who gets Migraine?
Anybody prone to having migraine can develop it. People with family history of migraine are more likely to have it and although both sexes are affected, females tend to suffer migraine more than males. Attacks usually start during the teenage years and diminish in frequency in later life. Also by the third decade of life, most migraine subjects would have learnt how to deal with it and this may appear like a reduction in frequency, when an increase in the frequency of attacks occur, it is usually due to:-
a) Anxiety and over work
b) The person may be on the pill
c) The person might have accompanying hypertension or
d) He or she might have an undiagnosed brain tumor.
4. Does it spread from person to person?
Migraine could run in the family but does not spread from person to person as in the case of communicable diseases. Migraine is a non-communicable disease.
5. What are the symptoms and signs?
The headache is usually restricted to one side of the head or the front of the head alone. It may however progress to become generalized. The headache may be preceded by visual disturbance in which the person may be seeing flashes of light, colors like rainbow or even loss of vision on one side.
Other associating symptoms are vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea. Migraine runs in the families and about 50% of patients report similar features in their parents or grandparents. There may also be a feeling of numbness or tingling sensation in the face or in the arms. In rare cases, the affected person may not be able to talk well for a varying length of time. All these symptoms usually last for only 15 to 30minutes and they pass off as the headache develops. Each episode of migraine headache lasts for an average of 12hours- i.e. virtually the whole of the working day. It may however be shorter in some cases. At its height, the headache may be accompanied by vomiting and while it lasts, the person often prefers to stay in a darkened room refusing all meals but sipping only water.
When the episode is over, the person becomes normal again and he or she may be free of symptoms for several weeks or even months. The whole episode then repeats itself when the headache recurs and it’s not difficult for the affected person to differentiate this particular type of headache from other types.
6. Can migraine be treated?
There are specific drugs for treating migraine and these are best prescribed by the doctor. However the basic principle is to provide a drug that would cause constriction of the blood vessels either orally, through the anus or by injection. Regular sedative drugs in appropriate doses are usually prescribed by doctors and this sometimes brings about a decrease in the frequency of attacks.
7. Can it be prevented?
With appropriate handling, preventive measures reduce the frequency of migraine attacks and this can be reduced by 50 to 75%. This depends on appropriate medications and paying attention to the personal habits of the persons. If attacks are precipitated by certain types of food, such foods items should be avoided by the patient. Certain drugs are also used as prophylaxes (preventive drugs) and they are quite effective. These drugs require doctor’s prescription and should only be used under the watchful eyes of a doctor so that their side-effects can be handled immediately.