A migraine is a severe, painful headache, which affects around two million Australian adults. Women are more likely to experience migraines than men. While migraines can be experienced at any age they are more common before the age of 40. Half of the people who experience migraines have a family history of them.
Types of migraine
A classic migraine comes with a set of symptoms called aura. These symptoms generally last for about an hour. While a common migraine strikes without aura, up to 1 in 3 people will experience aura symptoms.
Common aura symptoms include:
- Poor concentration
- Lack of coordination
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Tingling sensations in the face, arms and hands
A migraine can start at any time with symptoms occurring before, during or even after a migraine. While not all migraines are the same, general symptoms may include:
- Increased sensitivity to noise and lights
- A prolonged headache lasting from four to 72 hours
- Throbbing pain on one side of your head
- A headache that is triggered when you exercise or are active, preventing you from continuing
- Vomiting, nausea and feeling unwell
You don’t need to see a GP when you experience a migraine. However, it’s recommended you do if you are over 50+ years old; your aura symptoms last longer than one hour and/or if your migraine gets worse or are becoming more frequent.
Complications of migraine
There are varying complications with migraines. In some cases, a migraine can last longer than 72 hours, this is referred to as a migrainosus and those who experience this should visit a GP.
A chronic migraine is used to describe migraines experienced more then 15 days a month over the course of three months per year. It is important to note that when referring to illness, the term chronic to indicate how long a person has experienced that condition, rather than the severity of it.
Chronic migraines are occur in 1% and they are treated with increasing amounts of medication to control the number and frequency of migraine episodes. The result of increased medication may result in, what is referred to as, medication-overuse headaches.
Those who experience frequent migraines may be at risk of stroke, anxiety, depression and panic related disorders.
Causes of migraine
While the cause of migraines is not known, they may be the result of a chemical called serotonin. A decrease in the levels of serotonin cause changes to the blood vessels in the brain. The reason the levels change is also unknown.
To help identify patterns in your migraines, it can be useful to keep a diary tracking what might be trigger your migraines.
Common triggers can include:
- Loud noises
- Particular smells
- Particular foods and drinks, e.g. such as caffeine, alcohol, chocolate and cheese
- Bright lights
- Flickering lights
- Tension throughout your neck and/or shoulders
- Poor posture
- Changes in sleep pattern
- Overdoing exercise, especially if you are not used to it
- Skipping meals
Less common triggers can include:
- High blood pressure
- Sleep tablets
- Eye strain
Some women may experience migraines in the lead up and during their periods, pregnancy and menopause. Women may also experience them as a result of certain medications, such as oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy. These hormonal changes may impact the severity and frequency of migraines.
Diagnosis of migraine
While there is no particular test that can diagnose a migraine, your GP will look at other ways to identify your symptoms and look for possible triggers and patters. This is where a diary tracking the pattern of your migraines can be helpful, as well as your medical history.
Treatment of migraine
There are ways that your can help manage your migraines that include keeping a diary to record your symptoms, the frequency, how long they last and what medications you have taken, if any. These recordings will help your GP identify patterns.
You can also help the severity of your migraine by resting in quiet, dark rooms. Cold or hot towels applied to the pressure points on the side of the forehead or neck can also be effective in relieving symptoms.
Depending on the severity of your migraine, different medications may be recommended or prescribed. However, if you frequently use medication the impact it has on relieving pain may decrease or cause further headaches, referred to as ‘medication overuse headaches’.
Non-prescribed medications, such as painkillers, help to reduce symptoms of migraines. When using painkillers, always consult a pharmacist or your GP.
Your GP may prescribe a medication called triptans (also known as 5HT agonists), if other painkillers aren’t working. Triptans are effective in that they stop the effects of serotonin, which may lead to migraines.
While the cause of migraines is unknown, anxiety and stress are thought to contribute to the severity of migraines. For people who experience migraines and high levels of stress and anxiety, relaxation techniques are recommended. Yoga, muscle stretches, meditation and controlled breathing exercises can be beneficial in managing anxiety and stress levels.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is talking treatment by a trained therapist to help manage negative feelings, thoughts and behaviour. This alternative treatment is used to reduce stress and anxiety levels that may trigger migraines or make them worse.
Chiropractic and physiotherapy
Migraines are multifactorial. Exercise has been shown to help, however if you are suffering from stiffness, tightness, lack of mobility or your joints just aren’t working like they once did, we suggest you come as see one of our Balmain or Dee Why chiropractors and physiotherapists to help your improve your mechanics. This is very important, migraines leave people stiff, tight and usually couped up in the house all day. Chiropractic and physiotherapy can help alleviate these aspects of migraine.
If you are pregnant
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, most migraine medications will be unsuitable, so it is recommended that you consult your GP before taking any medications, as they may be harmful to your baby. Our chiropractors and physiotherapists in Balmain and Dee Why frequently see patients with headaches and migraine during pregnancy. For many patients this will relate to mechanical changes that occur during pregnancy. Pregnancy leads to a lot of mechanical (postural) changes in the female body including the way women walk, sleep, move, bend and even has an effect on changing the little things that we do throughout the day, such as getting out of a chair or bending down to pick up something from the floor. These changes in the way we hold ourselves tighen muscles and stiffen joints and this felt in the neck and head.
Prevention of migraine
To help prevent the onset of migraines, it’s important to try and identify the signs and triggers. The most effective way of doing this is through a diary that notes the patterns of your migraines.
Exercise has also shown positive results. In doing 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise for 5 or more days a week may help prevent migraines. Come in and speak to one our Balmain or Dee Why chiropractors or physiotherapists for more practical advice.
The bottom line on chiropractic and physiotherapy
Chiropractic and physiotherapy can be a useful tool when combating neck related headaches. It is common for different types of headache to be caused by neck problems. At Sydney Spine & Sports Centre (S3C) provide a comprehensive approach to neck related headaches using safe and effective treatments. Contact one of our Balmain or Dee Why chiropractors or physiotherapists today.
Read more articles on the head and jaw:
- Subdural haematoma
- Epidural haematoms
- Cervical myelopathy
- Temporomandibular disorders
- Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ)
- About S3C
- Our approach to back pain