Brain and Spine Care
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While most of us are looking forward to warmer weather, the spring season can be far more unpleasant for those who suffer from migraines.
More than 37 million Americans suffer from migraine headache symptoms. Migraines can be triggered by a number of environmental and lifestyle stimuli, including allergens common to the seasons changing from winter into spring.
Pollen and other common airborne allergens can be triggers, as well as the constantly changing Ohio spring weather. The saying “it only hurts when it rains” may be considered an old wives’ tale, but in this case, it has some basis.
“Part of why spring can be such a problem, especially here in Dayton, is the constant change in barometric pressure,” says Dr. Megan Mackenzie, a neurologist. “People will say, ‘A storm is coming, I know I’m going to have a migraine.’”
Contrary to popular belief, a migraine is more than just a bad headache. Migraine headaches are an extremely debilitating set of neurological symptoms that usually include severe throbbing and recurring pain on one side of the head.
Every migraine goes through several stages and can last from a few hours to several days. Along with severe head pain, they can bring about a variety of other symptoms such as irritability, sensitivity to light, temporary loss of sight, visual disturbances, nausea, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and general fatigue.
Finding your triggers
Dr. Mackenzie says the best way to prevent a migraine is to identify triggers and do your best to avoid them. Finding the exact trigger, or triggers, can be difficult and requires a methodical plan. Keeping track of migraine occurrences will help to identify those triggers and provide valuable information to the doctor regarding prevention. To do so, you will need to record as much detail as possible about each incidence over an extended period.
One of the easiest methods is to keep a “headache diary”—a notebook or day planner used to record dates, time, duration, what you did or ate before a migraine set in, and so on. If you prefer a more tech-savvy solution, there are smartphone and web apps that give patients a way to record details about each migraine episode and a basic analysis of the results.
Analyzing this information can reveal patterns that might identify triggers. For example, if the pain coincides with a particular dietary choice, then food may be at the root of the problem. Or maybe you consistently experience migraines on weekends. Then the headache may be a result of schedule changes. “Some people actually get migraines if they sleep in on the weekends,” Dr. Mackenzie says. “It’s known as a let-down headache.”
What to do about your migraines
Lifestyle modifications may be needed in order to prevent frequent headaches. Eating at regular intervals, staying well-hydrated, and keeping to a consistent sleep schedule may all help prevent migraine recurrence. If you are plagued by regularly occurring headaches and preventative measures have been unsuccessful, it may be time to talk about treatment.
“If you’re having chronic headaches, two or three a month, and they’re severe enough to stay home from work, miss out on an activity with family, or otherwise interrupt your life, you should see your doctor,” says Dr. Mackenzie. “This is especially true in cases where you experience extraordinarily severe headaches or one that wakes you up at night.”
Other neurological symptoms accompanying the migraine, such as difficulty speaking, weakness, numbness, and double vision, could be indicators of more serious problems, and you should seek medical help right away.
Generally, prevention is the goal, but if migraine headaches occur weekly or if you experience a couple each month that last several days, the discussion may turn to pharmaceutical treatment. There are many different medications, most designed for other purposes but identified as beneficial in preventing a migraine.
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