What is a migraine?
Migraine is the most common disabling headache syndrome. It affects about 15% of the population and the majority of sufferers are aged 30-50. Twice as many women than men are affected. Migraine is not ‘just a headache’, it typically also causes other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound. Temporary neurological dysfunction can also occur, ranging from visual loss, numbness, difficulty speaking and thinking, profound dizziness and in rare cases, even paralysis.
What are the symptoms of migraine?
The symptoms and severity of migraines can vary between individuals and episodes. Besides severe headache pain, migraines may be accompanied by secondary symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound or smell. They can be aggravated by physical activity. Migraines may sometimes be associated with poor balance. These symptoms help to distinguish a migraine from other headaches such as tension headache.
What are the causes of migraine?
Much has been learned about the biology of migraine in recent years. It is known that at the onset of an episode, a network of neurons within the brain suddenly activates. This activation results in the many and varied symptoms including pain, nausea, sensitivity to one’s surroundings and neurological dysfunction. Migraine attacks may be associated with various triggers such as stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, and certain foods however, the influence of these triggers is often over-emphasised. The majority of migraines occur spontaneously, without any provocation at all. Overuse of short-acting headache medications can increase the likelihood of a migraine attack.
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Many questions remain unanswered about the cause of migraine. Fortunately, large numbers of researchers continue to pursue a better understanding of the condition and more effective treatments. The global market for migraine treatment is estimated to be $8 billion by the year 2026 hence pharmaceutical companies are keenly competing to find medications with better outcomes for patients.
How are migraines diagnosed?
There is no specific and reliable test to diagnose migraine. It is important that patients undergo a medical examination by a specialist who may also request an MRI scan of the head or CT of the head/neck to rule out other causes.
Your doctor can diagnose migraine by asking questions about your symptoms, family history, medical history, diet, and lifestyle. Diagnosis depends on your description about the headache, it’s location, length, duration, causative factors and associated symptoms.
Why is a headache diary important?
A diagnostic headache diary is a crucial part of the diagnostic process. It may reveal that patients have more than one headache type (e.g., migraine-tension overlap) or show that years of ‘tension headache’ or ‘sinusitis’ is, in fact, episodic or chronic migraine. Once the correct diagnosis is made, the diary is used to track progress and response to various drug and non-drug treatments, including injection therapies. Click here to learn more about migraine.