Learn more about the triggers of migraines & headaches and how to manage them

Migraines & Headaches Awareness Month

More than 20% of the U.S. population suffers from migraines and their debilitating and painful effects. Together, we can bring much-needed awareness to the community about how to manage this very common condition and help break the stigma that is often associated with this silent illness. 

According to the CDC, migraines are one of the leading causes of disability, globally. Even though they are one of the most common conditions, they often go undiagnosed, untreated, and misdiagnosed. Oftentimes, when people suffer from migraines they can become severely impaired and may need to remain in bed and in the dark. Living with migraines sometimes causes some people to withdraw from their life, miss important events with loved ones, and deal with the lack of compassion that often comes with chronic conditions. 

What are migraines?

Sure, we all have the occasional headaches; however, many people suffer from more than the ordinary headache, such as chronic migraines or cluster headaches. The World Health Organization states that “migraines are the most common disorders of the nervous system.” One in seven (1 in 7) adults worldwide suffers from it, with people who identify as women suffering three times more.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, “A migraine is a headache that can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for hours to days, and the pain can be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.” 

Some of the symptoms/warning signs of migraines can include:

  • Auras (vision changes to pins and needles sensation in arms/legs).
  • Sensitivity to light, smells, and even touch.
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Throbbing or pulsating pain in one or both sides of your head
  • Mood changes
  • Neck stiffness
  • Digestive problems

Migraines are not always severe headaches. They can also very well be a neurological disease. According to the American Migraine Foundation, there are different migraine subtypes that include migraine with aura, migraine without aura, migraine without head pain, hemiplegic migraine, retinal migraine, chronic migraine, ice-pick headaches, cluster headaches, and cervicogenic headaches. While pinpointing what kind of migraine you or others might be experiencing can be rather tricky, rest assured that many helpful methods can help prevent and treat these conditions to last fewer days or hours. 

Some of the most common triggers and causes of migraines can include: 

  • Hormonal changes caused by menopause, menstruation, and estrogen drops.
  • Lights such as flashes, fluorescent lights, or even sunlight.
  • Spending too much time on a computer, and/or smartphone. 
  • Caffeine, too much or too little, can disrupt your blood vessels. 
  • Skipping a meal or dehydration. 
  • Sudden changes in weather, pressure changes, and wind. 
  • Emotional stress can cause fight or flight chemicals to increase tension in your body and blood vessel dilation. 
  • Burnout and being overtired. 

Even though there isn’t a cure just yet, there are various treatments, techniques, and medicines you can take to manage your symptoms and reverse specific effects. Some pain medications such as Ibuprofen, Excedrin Migraine, Advil Migraine, Motrin, and Tylenol, can relieve some of your pain. On the other hand, your doctor might recommend taking Triptans, Calcium blockers, Beta-blockers, Antidepressants, antiseizure medicines, and other newer agents on the market which include injectable therapies. The selection of therapy will vary according to the migraine diagnosis (chronic or episodic). Please make sure to talk to your physician or pharmacist before taking an over-the-counter medication.

There are other non-pharmacological ways to manage your condition, such as:

  • Relaxing in a dark, quiet room. 
  • Cold or hot compresses behind your neck.
  • Yoga and meditation.
  • Scalp and temple massages.
  • Biofeedback 
  • Controlling your stress with therapy.
  • Ask your doctor about hormone therapy.

Know that you are not alone in your migraine and chronic headaches experience, and shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help. For more information and resources, please visit the American Migraine Foundation, American Headache Society, Cove, and the Migraine World Summit. You should also speak with your health care provider to describe your symptoms for the best diagnosis and treatment plan. 

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*This blog post was written by Ana M. Rivera, Pharm.D., Associate Director of Clinical Services at Abarca Health.

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