If you've ever had a migraine headache or even know someone who has you will realise how devastating they can be. The International Headache Society defines migraine headache as a headache that has the following characteristics:
• Lasts 4 to 72 hours
• Has a pulsating quality
• Moderate to severe intensity
• Aggravated by physical activity
• Associated with nausea and light sensitivity.
A migraine headache can also be associated with symptoms such as numbness of the face or extremities and visual disturbance. It is important to stress that not all migraine headaches have all these characteristics. About 25% of migraine headache sufferers describe symptoms that can signal the onset of a migraine the night before. These include a feeling of elation, craving for sweet foods or excessive yawning. Between 25 and 40% of sufferers experience a visual aura at some time.
Causes of migraine
Individual sufferers usually work out what their triggers are. These can include food, stress, heat and cold, strong smells, emotional upheavals, hormonal fluctuations or back and neck pain. About half of migraine sufferers have a family history of this. From a medical perspective it is generally agreed that a migraine headache is linked to a spasm of the main artery leading to the brain. Studies have shown that this dilates during an attack and returns to normal afterwards.
Treatments for migraine headache
Most treatments include lifestyle modifications and avoiding the things that trigger an attack. However there are a range of medications that can help.
- Over the counter analgesics (paracetamol, aspirin) or stronger analgesics if the attack is acute.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory products such as Iboprofen, Brufen and Naprosyn. Stronger products than these can also be used.
- Triptans such as Imigran, Naramig and Zomig that are based on the serotonin molecule.
- Ergotamine compounds such as Cafergot that provide relief by constricting blood vessels.
- Anti emetic drugs to reduce nausea
How the right pillow can help
Research has demonstrated that when the nerves in the upper neck are irritated they can cause pain in the head and face, temples, forehead and behind the eyes. Irritation or pressure that affects these nerves can trigger a migraine headache. This can occur from poor sleeping posture, or sleeping on an unsuitable pillow. A correct pillow is one that keeps your vertebrae in its correct and natural position, minimising any nerve irritation and protecting your long term spinal health.
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