The World Health Organization (WHO) states that headaches are one of the most frequent medical conditions. But not all headaches are the same. Today we will talk about a very common type of headache: migraine.
Headache: differences between headache and migraine
Migraine or hemicrania is a very common disease, with a genetic basis, which usually affects between 12% and 16% of the population. But what differentiates migraine headache?
Headache and migraine are not the same. Headache is a discomfort that causes a headache. There are two types: primary headaches, which have numerous causes; and secondary headaches that result from a disease. For example, a brain tumor or Lyme disease.
Migraine and tension headache belong to the group of primary headaches, although migraine usually appears along with nausea and vomiting. As for these, the type of pain is different. While migraine presents pulsating pain, the headache is characterized by oppressive pain, such as pressure in the head. Migraine, moreover, usually affects half of the head, and tension headache affects the two halves. Headache can appear for different causes: stress, fatigue, anxiety, excess coffee or tobacco, and migraine is genetic.
Symptoms of migraine
Migraine causes great suffering to the person who suffers it and to their families. Generally, it appears as recurrent attacks of headache, which can vary in frequency, intensity and duration. As has been said, this pain is usually located on one side of the head, and in addition to appearing together with nausea and vomiting, patients often manifest discomfort towards light and noise. Migraine is a chronic as well as an episodic condition that manifests in the form of attacks.
In summary, the most frequent causes of migraine are:
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Lethargy (lack of energy)
Tension headache and migraine represent up to 95% of primary headaches and, without a doubt, this last disease causes deterioration in the quality of life of people who suffer from it.
Types of migraine
There are different types of migraine and, therefore, the symptoms and severity can vary from one person to another.
Knowing exactly the type of migraine is essential to employ the most effective treatment. In fact, 60-70% of patients with migraine are not diagnosed correctly, due to the fact that it is complicated to know objectively the symptoms they produce and the areas of the head that are affected by that sensation of pain. Thus, the correct diagnosis determines to a great extent the success of the cure.
Taking into account the classification of the International Headache Society (ICHD-3), the types of migraine are:
1. Migraine without aura (common migraine)
This is the type of migraine that is very common and the most frequent. Symptoms include moderate to severe pulsatile headache that usually occurs without warning. The pain is usually felt in only part of the head, and appears along with nausea, confusion, blurred vision, and excessive sensitivity to light, noise and odors.
Somehow, this type of migraine resembles a headache whose intensity is very high, that is, a quantitative difference with respect to a common headache with a few extra symptoms, such as sensitivity to light.
Attacks last from 4 to 72 hours and are repeated a couple of times a week. Body movement makes the symptoms worse.
2. Migraine with aura
Also known as classic migraine or complicated migraine, it is characterized by visual disturbances and other neurological symptoms, known as auras, that appear 10 to 60 minutes before the headache occurs. The person who feels it may partially lose sight.
The aura can occur without a headache and can manifest at any time. In addition to visual disturbances, other symptoms may appear such as: abnormal sensation, numbness or muscle weakness on one side of the body; a tingling sensation in the hands or face; difficulty speaking and confusion. Also, nausea, loss of appetite and greater sensitivity to light, sound or noise may precede the headache.
3. Migraine without headache
As the name suggests, this type of migraine does not present a headache, but vision problems and other symptoms associated with the aura. In addition, it can appear with belly pain, nausea or vomiting.
Some experts suggest that fever, dizziness or unexplained pain in one part of the body can also be a consequence of this type of migraine.
4. Basilar migraine
Basilar migraine mainly affects children and adolescents, and includes symptoms of migraine with aura that originate in the brainstem. However, patients do not have motor weakness. It usually appears more frequently in adolescent women and could be associated with their menstrual cycles.
Symptoms include partial or total loss of vision or double vision, dizziness and loss of balance (vertigo), poor muscle coordination, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and fainting.
The throbbing pain may appear suddenly and is felt on both sides of the head, specifically in the back.
5. Hemiplegic migraine
Hemiplegic migraine is a subtype of migraine that occurs infrequently. However, its symptoms are severe, because it causes temporary paralysis in a part of the body that can last even days. This paralysis usually emerges before the headache.
Symptoms such as vertigo, pricking sensation and problems with vision, speech or swallowing can begin before the headache and usually stop shortly after. When it occurs in families, this disorder is called Familial Hemiplegic Migraine.
6. Retinal migraine
This type of migraine is rare and is characterized by attacks of visual loss or alterations in one eye. These attacks, like the most common visual auras, are preceded by migraine headaches. On the other hand, visual loss can not be explained by damage to the eye or optic nerve.
7. Chronic migraine
When the headaches manifest for 15 or more days a month, for at least three months, then chronic migraine is diagnosed.
Chronic migraine can be with or without aura, and usually requires preventive medications. Likewise, it is necessary to carry out behaviors to control the appearance of symptoms, since chronic migraine can become incapacitating. After consuming the drugs, almost 50% of patients still have migraine, but this time episodic.
Although the cause seems to be genetic, there are different factors that precipitate the symptomatic appearance of migraine. Therefore, it is always better to take precautions to minimize the impact of this condition:
- Diet: some patients react with migraine to certain foods. That is why it is necessary to detect them and avoid consuming them. In addition, alcohol, Chinese food, chocolate or smoked foods are more likely to cause migraine. It is also advisable to eat with regular hours.
- Sleep hygiene: maintaining a healthy sleep habits can help prevent migraine.
- Hormonal level: in the case of women, it seems that hormones related to menstrual cycles are prone to trigger these episodes. Contraceptives, which cause changes in estrogen levels, worsen the symptoms and frequency of migraine.