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Migraine Myths and Facts

It Can Be a Real Pain: Migraine Myths and Facts

Migraine Myths and Facts

If you're among the 37-million Americans who suffer from migraines, you are well aware of how very real – and often crippling – these types of headaches are. Those who fall in the category of having never had a migraine, however, often have the wrong idea about this condition.

Myths vs. Facts
A good educational starting point is to separate migraine myths from migraine facts. While a complete listing of migraine myths could fill volumes, here’s a sampling of the most common misbeliefs:

Myth: A migraine is simply a bad headache.
Fact: Migraine is a medical term that refers to a neurological disease. Migraines are not labeled as headaches. Rather, an episode is referred to as a migraine attack. The exact causes of this disease continues to be studied. However, the most recent research points to causes that are rooted in genetics and overly sensitive neurons in the brain.

While migraine symptoms vary, the most often cited symptoms are:

  • throbbing, pulsating pain;
  • sensitivity to light;
  • sound sensitivity;
  • nausea;
  • pain on one side of the head;
  • vision difficulties;
  • aura.
  • Myth: Migraines don't occur often, and when they do strike, they're gone pretty quickly.

    Fact: The average migraine lasts from four to 72 hours. But, severe attacks can span days, weeks, and even months. If a migraine extends beyond 72 hours, seeking medical attention is suggested. And, if you experience migraines 15 or more days per month, the condition is grouped as chronic migraine. Sadly, many people do suffer from chronic migraines.

    Myth: Migraines aren't a serious medical condition, they're just bothersome.

    Fact: A migraine in and of itself may not be life-threatening. But, research indicates a link between migraine and stroke, other heart diseases and suicide. In this regard, consider these statistics:

    • More than 1,400 American women who suffer from migraine (with aura) die yearly from cardiac disease compared to women who do not have migraines.
    • Suicide attempts are three times more likely among those who have migraines (with aura) compared to those with no history of migraines. This is regardless if major depression also is present.

    Myth: True migraines are preceded by an aura.

    Fact: Some 25% to 30% of migraine attacks are accompanied by an aura. Auras come in many forms, including:

    • Flashing spots.
    • Wavy lines.
    • Blurred vision.
    • Unusual smells.
    • Ringing in the ears.
    • Tingling sensation throughout the body.

    According to the International Headache Society, given that people can have both types of migraines, there are now two official classifications: migraine with aura and migraine without aura.

    Myth: There are no treatment options for those who suffer migraines.
    Fact: Although a migraine cure continues to remain elusive, those who suffer from this disease do have options. For example, by working with a physician skilled in migraine management, sufferers can learn what triggers their attacks. This means they can be better equipped to avoid the triggers. While triggers vary by person, the most frequently reported are:

    • Hormonal changes in women. This includes those prompted by oral birth control or hormone replacement therapy.
    • Aged cheeses, salty foods, and processed foods.
    • Skipping meals or fasting.
    • Food additives.
    • Alcohol, particularly wine, as well as highly caffeinated drinks.
    • Personal or professional stress.
    • Bright lights and glare from the sun.
    • Loud noises.
    • Unusual smells.
    • Altered ­sleeping patterns.
    • Physical exertion.
    • Changes in the weather.

    In addition to managing triggers, you can also access an array of medications to treat this neurologic disease. These medications are divided into two general types:

    • Pain–relieving medications – Once symptoms of a migraine attack are present, these medications are taken in to reduce the attack's severity.
    • Preventive medications – These types of medications are taken prophylactically – often on a daily basis. They help to reduce both the number of and severity of migraine attacks.

    The exact treatment approach is determined by a variety of factors. But the point is that many forms of treatment are available.

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