Are You Affected By Headaches and Migraines?

Migraine is a neurological disease that is considered to be the second most disabling and the third most common illness in the world. There are 42 million Americans currently living with migraine and headache disorders. Dr. Heather Moury, a Neurologist and Headache Specialist at St. Clair Health, stresses, “Migraines are more than just a headache. It is severe pain with disabling symptoms.”

Headache Versus Migraine

For starters, it is important to understand the difference between a headache and a migraine. “A headache is more common; all of us have had a headache at least once in our lifetime,” says Dr. Moury. It can form anywhere in your temples, face, head, or neck. A migraine is different, as it causes severe throbbing or pulsating pain on one side of your head. It also often includes symptoms like sensitivity to light or sounds, nausea, and vomiting. A migraine can have an impact on your ability to complete work or even function normally.

A migraine often begins with neck pain or stiffness and frequent yawning, followed by an aura which can consist of vision changes, dizziness, or numbness. After this, the actual pain of the migraine begins and can last for 4 to 72 hours. Even after this severe pain, symptoms of fatigue and confusion can still linger. Overall, migraine symptoms can last for multiple days, which affects one’s ability to work and spend time with their loved ones.

Common Causes

Headaches and migraines can have many different causes. Because headaches are much more common, they can have a larger variety of causes such as dehydration, not eating, alcohol, infection, stress, processed foods, and even some aged cheeses. Migraines can be caused by some of the same things, but most commonly they are caused by weather changes, stress, not sleeping, or hormone changes.

Hormones are a large factor in migraines, and Dr. Moury says it has even been found that “women are three times more likely to have migraines than men.” Estrogen withdrawal is often a cause of migraines. Something as simple as having your period can result in a migraine because of the change in hormones and loss of estrogen that occurs. Your brain can be affected by changes in hormones and many lifestyle factors. “Your brain likes consistency. Fasting, dehydration, and excessive caffeine can all cause a migraine due to disruption of that balance,” explains Dr. Moury.

Prevention Methods

As doctors have determined, your brain searches for consistency. And when there is inconsistency within your life, it can lead to headaches and migraines so one of the keys to preventing headaches and migraines is to create consistency within your life. That is why many physicians encourage their patients to focus on maintaining a regular sleep schedule, staying hydrated, and developing a well-balanced diet. Additionally, doctors have also found that movement and exercise can help in preventing migraines.

Stress management can also be extremely important for prevention. Dr. Moury encourages patients to try to utilize meditation to reduce stress. Focused breathing and taking a walk can help to manage stress levels as well, which can help with reducing the number of headaches and migraines that you are experiencing. “Half of managing migraines is really lifestyle choices. Many patients can make a reduction to their migraine disability by making healthy lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Moury.

That being said, there are times where lifestyle choices and prevention methods may not work fully. If you are still looking for ways to lessen the impact of a headache or migraine, there are some ways to do so without medication. You can try cold compresses, relaxation, and massages. There are also some vitamins that can be helpful including Magnesium, Riboflavin, Feverfew, and Coenzyme Q10.

Some medical devices have also proven to be effective. For example, the Cefaly device is used on your forehead to stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which helps to reduce the pain of the migraine. Injections such as nerve blocks, trigger points, and Botox also assist in targeting the nerves around your head and neck to reduce pain.

When to See a Physician

If your body is no longer responding to a typical over-the-counter treatment like Advil or Ibuprofen, it is recommended you see a physician. Dr. Moury also recommends seeing a provider if you are taking medication 15 days a month or more. This can lead to other health concerns and cause medication overuse headaches. It is also encouraged to see a physician if your headache patterns are suddenly different, more frequent, or more severe. You should immediately seek medical attention or go to the Emergency Room in you are experiencing fever, confusion, immense pain, neck stiffness, or a headache after a head injury.

It is important to understand that migraines are not completely understood yet. That being said, “We have had leaps and bounds within the last few years. We have significantly increased advocacy for patients and the ability to treat migraines” says Dr. Moury. We now have a better understanding of migraines as a whole and medications that are truly dedicated to treating migraines.

If you are struggling with headaches or migraines, consult with your primary care physician or a neurologist. You can also learn more about migraines by checking out the American Migraine Foundation.

Heather Moury, D.O., AQH

Heather Moury, D.O., AQH earned her medical degree at the University of Pikeville – Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. She also completed both her residency and fellowship at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology-Clinical Neurophysiology and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Moury practices with St. Clair Medical Group. To contact Dr. Moury, please call 412.942.6300.