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Have you ever experienced pain in your head that was so intense all you could do was lay down in a dark room with a wet rag on your forehead and pray for the feeling to pass, or that the pain pills would kick in quickly and knock you out? Migraines, while not technically considered a headache, are often so severe that they are literally enough to make a grown man cry. But, what causes migraines and how can they be avoided?

What Causes a Migraine?

While the primary reason migraines occur in some people and not others is not fully known, it is believed that when blood vessels dilate, chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin can cause further dilation accompanied by intense, even violent, pain.

Migraine Symptoms

Migraines can cause many symptoms. The most common symptoms associated with migraines include, but are not limited to, the following:

– Violent throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head
– Nausea with or without vomiting
– Fatigue
– Feelings of intense cold or heat
– Blurred vision
– Stiff neck

The above list is not exhaustive. If you experience any other side effects not mentioned here, contact your doctor or healthcare professional immediately.

Migraine Triggers

If you are prone to migraine headaches, you know there are certain things such as food and drink that can act as a trigger. Among these are the following:

– Foods such as chocolate, cheese, nuts, avocados, lentils, beans, figs, monosodium glutamate (MSG), onions, pickles, sauerkraut, soy sauce and canned or processed meat.
– Alcohol
– Stress
– Hormonal imbalance in women
– Birth control pills
– Smoking

These are just a few of the more common triggers associated with migraine headaches. Again, if there is a certain food or drink that you know will spark an episode, avoid it like the plague. Eating canned meat is not worth the risk of experiencing the intense pain a migraine is capable of inducing.

Phases of a Migraine

Often, migraine sufferers are able to tell they are about to have an episode, as there are certain phases they experience prior to the onset of symptoms. These phases include the following:

Prodrome – This is the theme song from the movie Jaws that warns you something bad is about to happen. This could describe changes in mood, depression, irritability, feelings of fatigue, sleeping too much, and muscle tension.

Aura – An aura is a visual disturbance that affects most migraine sufferers.

Headache – This pain can occur on one or both sides of the head. The pain is usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and a sensitivity to light and sound.

Headache Termination – Migraine pain tends to subside when a person is sleeping.

Postdrome – This phase includes certain symptoms following the migraine episode such as feelings of tiredness, difficulty concentrating and no appetite.

Migraine Treatment

If you have experienced migraine pain long enough and are familiar with the symptoms leading up to an episode, then it is wise to take your medication at that time. Some over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are effective in treating migraine symptoms. Some people report that caffeine helps shorten the duration and severity of symptoms. Check with your doctor before you begin any pain relievers to make sure there are no contraindications. If your over-the-counter medication does not cover the pain, check with your doctor regarding pain medication that can be prescribed to get you through these intense episodes of pain.

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