No one enjoys the periodic headache. For some, this is an unfortunate chronic reality. The American Migraine Foundation reports that at least 39 million Americans live with a migraine condition. There are several types of headaches; hypertension, cluster headaches, episodic migraines, etc.
Once you understand the difference between a typical headache and a migraine, you can be more deliberate in treating the condition. In this blog on the differences between headaches and chronic migraines, we’ll look at the following:
- How is a migraine differentiated from the usual headache?
- What are the symptoms of a migraine?
- What is it like to live with chronic migraines?
- What causes chronic headaches?
- Can chronic migraine headaches run in the family?
- Can migraine headaches cause other health issues?
- How bad can a migraine headache get?
- How do I treat chronic headaches occurring every day?
- What foods should you avoid to prevent migraines?
- How useful is acupuncture for chronic migraines?
- When should I see a neurologist for migraines?
How is a Migraine Differentiated from the Usual Headache?
Migraines aren’t the typical headache. They’re often associated with more intense pain. Along with this, they’re accompanied by additional symptoms that go beyond the head pain itself.
The duration of a migraine is typically longer than a general headache. While headaches last around a half hour to a couple of hours, migraines can linger for up to 72 hours.
As mentioned before, migraine pain is much more severe than a headache. They may occur on the sides of the head and move around during migraine attacks.
Due to their severity, migraines may not respond to common headache relief medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Ongoing migraines often require more heavy-duty prescription medications like beta-blockers.
People who suffer from migraines tend to see a pattern of the ongoing issue. This is because migraines are commonly triggered by specific things such as stress, hormones, and lack of sleep. Headaches, on the other hand, can occur without any direct trigger.
What are the Symptoms of a Migraine?
Usually, a person with migraines experiences more than just head pain. Unlike headaches, migraines have other symptoms besides the head pain itself. Migraine symptoms may manifest as one or more of the following:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light, sound, or motion
- An “aura” (can cause vision loss and seeing shapes, spots, and flashes of light)
- Blurred vision
- Tingling or numbness in the face, hands, or feet
- Difficulty concentrating or speaking
- Sleep disturbances
- Dizziness (vertigo) or lightheadedness
While all of these are commonly associated with a migraine, a person may only have the head pain itself. They may exhibit one or more migraine symptoms in waves or throughout the episode.
What is it Like to Live with Chronic Migraines?
Chronic migraines are a debilitating condition. People who suffer may find migraines impacting multiple areas of their lives, if not all areas. During the onset of a migraine, a person may need to cancel plans or call in sick due to an inability to concentrate and the incapacitating pain.
The constant interruptions with daily life can interfere with work productivity, personal care, and social life. This can lead to mental health decline by hurting self-esteem, relationships, the ability to meet goals, and sleep problems, to name a few.
Thankfully, chronic migraines can be treated with prescription-strength medications. Often, you can stop a migraine from developing by taking medicine at the first sign of symptoms.
What Causes Chronic Headaches?
While the exact cause of migraines is unknown, studies have shown a link between migraines and certain triggering factors. People with chronic migraines may notice patterns between specific events and the development of a migraine.
- Diet. Certain foods and drinks can contribute to migraines by causing blood vessels to swell. Alcoholic beverages, dairy proteins, processed food, and sugary food are all possible migraine triggers.
- Stress. While stress may contribute to headaches and migraines, it can cause many health problems. Stress has a domino effect on the body, causing sleep problems, stress eating, and anxiety. Each of these factors can contribute to triggering a migraine.
- Hormones. Both a person’s diet and stress levels can affect hormones. Hormones can become off-balanced for various reasons, including physical activity levels, sleep, existing medical conditions, medication, and environmental factors. Women are especially prone to experiencing migraines due to the menstrual cycle’s impact on hormones.
Chronic headache sufferers likely struggle with the condition due to a combination of factors. Diet, stress, and hormones, among other factors, easily link together and affect one another. Figuring out triggers allows a person to find the most suitable treatment plan that targets the underlying causes.
Can Chronic Migraine Headaches run in the Family?
The origin of migraines isn’t fully understood, but plenty of research has gone into the role genetics play in developing the condition. Many scientists confirm a clear link between family members based on these studies. This form of migraine is called Familial hemiplegic. Familial hemiplegic migraines are inherited through mutations in certain genes. Genes are associated with an estimated 60% of migraine sufferers.
Can Migraine Headaches Cause Other Health Issues?
Long-term, chronic migraines can contribute to more severe health problems. Physical and mental issues can arise due to a migraine’s strain on the mind. Shared genes are seen between migraines and other brain activities such as seizures.
Other health issues that migraines can correspond with or contribute to include:
- High blood pressure
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Heart disease
- Chronic pain and fatigue (fibromyalgia)
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep conditions
How Bad Can a Migraine Headache Get?
Migraines can be incapacitating in some cases. They can cause extreme sensitivity to light and sound and intense throbbing lasting several hours. The symptoms may come and go in intensity or stay consistently painful throughout migraine attacks. If you experience severe or frequent migraines, it’s essential to contact your doctor about treatment options and ensure no underlying conditions.
How Do I Treat Chronic Headaches Occurring Every Day?
You can try to manage daily chronic headaches through lifestyle changes and discussing medication options. Before obtaining prescription medication, it’s helpful to try and identify daily triggers that may be the real culprit.
When trying to treat chronic headaches, consider whether the following needs are being met:
- Regular exercise
- Sufficient sleep
- Relieving stress
- Monitoring caffeine and alcohol intake
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Avoiding medication overuse (headaches can increase in frequency when too much medicine is used)
If you find no luck in changing daily practices, the next step is to contact your doctor about further treatment options, such as medication and physical therapy.
What Foods Should You Avoid to Prevent Migraines?
Migraine sufferers report seeing a pattern in certain headache triggers. While these may vary from person to person, some foods often associated with the onset of a migraine include the following:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Food preservatives (nitrates and nitrites)
- Monosodium glutamate-containing foods (fast food, frozen meals, processed meat, condiments, etc.)
- Alcohol (specifically red wine)
- Excessive caffeine
- Citrus fruits
- Age cheese
- Nuts and seeds with tyramine
People may find some, none, or most of these foods to trigger migraines. It’s a process of trial and error and ruling out possible triggers.
How Useful is Acupuncture for Chronic Migraines?
Research shows that acupuncture is effective in a number of migraine cases. One study found that “the frequency of headaches dropped by 50% or more in up to 59% of individuals receiving acupuncture.”
When Should I See a Neurologist for Migraines?
Most people experience a headache every now and then. Contact your doctor if you notice frequent, long-lasting (more than one or two consecutive headache days), and intense headaches, especially accompanied by additional symptoms. Migraines are difficult to treat with over-the-counter medicine and often need more intense prescription medications.
TPC’s Medication Management for Migraines
The Pain Center offers treatment for all types of chronic pain. Our medication management treatment allows patients to work individually with a headache specialist. They might suggest additional treatment options such as botox and acupuncture.
Don’t tolerate your migraines one day longer; reach out today to find the best-fit solution to pain relief. We look forward to hearing from you.