Diagnosing Migraine Symptoms

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What is a migraine?

Migraines are uniquely different from headaches. While they are often described as such, a migraine is a far more complex condition affecting the blood vessels surrounding the brain. They are prompted by biochemical changes in the brain that trigger the arteries in the head to become constricted and then dilated. These changes irritate the pain sensing nerves around the brain.

Diagnosing a migraine

Common medical tests involving the brain are unsuccessful when it comes to diagnosing a migraine. Instead, physicians consider a combination of symptoms that together provide a migraine diagnosis. If you suspect you might be experiencing migraines, track your symptoms with a migraine journal. This will be helpful not only when speaking to your physician, but also in providing insight into patterns and trends that may be contributing to the frequency and severity of migraine pain. Download the Advil Migraine Tracker and start tracking your symptoms as early as now.

Migraine risk factors Migraine symptoms Migraine causes

There are a number of migraine risk factors that may make you, or someone you know, more susceptible to experiencing a migraine.

Migraine risk factors include:

  • Hormonal changes – Typically occurring in women throughout different life stages
  • Family history – If your parents had migraines, it’s likely you will too
  • Age – The onset of migraines usually occurs during adolescence
  • Gender – Women are three times more likely than men to get migraines

Migraines often begin to occur during adolescence. The symptoms are varied and unique to each individual. You may experience all of them, some of them, or sometimes, none of them.

The following symptoms may occur as a sign of an oncoming migraine.

  • The onset of a Migraine Aura
  • Location, type and duration of pain
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light, odour, noise and sometimes touch
  • Changes in mood, including depression
  • Gastrointestinal problems including diarrhea, constipation and/or cramps
  • Changes in behaviour that can include any of the following symptoms: depression, irritability, hyperactivity, passivity, feelings of euphoria, increased creativity or even loss of control

While the causes of migraines are not fully understood, there are a number of common triggers that are known to incite the condition. Migraine triggers vary widely between people and can include physiological, emotional and environmental factors.

Common Migraine Triggers

  • Fatigue/lack of sleep/too much sleep/changes in sleep patterns
  • Hormonal changes such as estrogen fluctuations in women as a result of oral contraceptives, pregnancy, periods, and menopause can result in migraine pain
  • Missing a meal
  • Physical exertion
  • Increased stress levels
  • Sensory stimuli including strong odours, bright lights and loud noise
  • Changes in environment like barometric pressure can trigger a migraine
  • Certain medications can aggravate migraine pain including nitroglycerin and oral contraceptives
  • Foods that have been known to cause migraines include alcohol, chocolate, aspartame, aged cheeses, over-consumption of caffeine, and processed foods

Migraine aura

A Migraine aura acts as an early warning sign for people who experience migraines. Auras are visual effects that may include shimmering or flashing light, double vision, or blind spots. Some people also experience nausea, weakness and occasionally, slurring of words in more severe cases. Auras typically disappear within 15-30 minutes and are followed by a migraine. Treating symptoms before they become severe may help to reduce the severity of your migraine.

Headache or Migraine? Know the difference

Migraine Headache

  • Pain is typically moderate to severe, characterized by a throbbing or pulsing sensation
  • Pain is concentrated around the side of the head, often around the eye, temple or behind the ear
  • Pain that is aggravated by movement
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, sound and smell
  • Sharp pain
  • Visual disturbances (aura, zigzag-like patterns, inability to focus)
  • Cold sweats

Tension Headache

  • Mild-to-moderate, constant pain
  • Pain surrounding the entire head, that may spread to the neck
  • General feeling of tightness or stiffness around the head
  • Pressure and/or tension around temples resulting in a “vice-like grip”
  • Pain, compression and/or tightness around eyes and front of head
  • Pounding and/or throbbing sensation
  • Dull ache

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