Migraine is one of the most debilitating types of headache. It affects nearly 10% of the global population and results in more than 25 million sick days in the U.K. alone.
Apart from a throbbing or pulsating headache, a migraine attack can cause a wide array of symptoms, including:
- Sensitivity to light and sound
Typically, a migraine attack lasts for 4 to 72 hours. If an attack lasts longer than 72 hours, it is referred to as Status Migrainosus.
Despite the wide prevalence of migraine, there isn't a plethora of concrete information on migraines' causes and treatment options. The good news is that medical researchers are constantly working to unearth new ways to treat migraine symptoms.
While a cure for migraine is yet to be discovered, there have been a few breakthroughs in migraine treatment in recent years. Ongoing research has also helped scientists gain a better understanding of its causes and triggers.
From neuromodulation devices, such as Cefaly, to CGRP monoclonal antibody treatments - there are various advanced ways of managing migraine. (Source: StuffThatWorks)
This blog will take a closer look at the latest information available on migraine treatment and causes.
Stages of Migraine: A Quick Overview
Typically, patients start experiencing mild to moderate symptoms hours or days before a migraine attack. The condition progresses across the following stages:
It is the first stage of migraine that usually starts a couple of days before an attack. Common symptoms include:
- Neck stiffness
- Increased urination
- Fluid retention
Additionally, patients also report feeling depressed or euphoric during this stage.
It is the most prominent sign of an impending migraine attack. Symptoms of aura can last during the attack as well.
The stage is characterized by visual disturbances, such as blind spots or light flashes. Some patients also experience neurological symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.
Each aura symptom can last for up to 60 minutes.
This is the stage where the characteristic pulsating or throbbing headache occurs. Depending on the severity of the condition, patients can experience migraine attacks multiple times in a month.
It refers to the period after a migraine attack. Patients report feeling exhausted, confused and drained for a few days.
What Causes Migraine?
Traditionally, medical professionals and scientists believed that migraine attacks resulted from changes in blood flow to the brain. However, recent research indicates that these headaches have more to do with the nervous system's ability to process pain.
According to a study, migraine attacks directly correlate with elevated levels of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). CGRP is a neurotransmitter that helps the human brain recognize and process pain.
Elevated levels of CGRP cause blood vessels in the brain to dilate. This, in turn, results in a splitting headache. It is also observed that CGRP triggers the trigeminal nerve, which is a major pain pathway.
Additionally, any imbalance in serotonin levels in the brain can interfere with its ability to regulate pain. This, in turn, results in a migraine attack.
Scientists have also found that hormonal imbalances, such as changes in estrogen levels, can trigger migraines. It could explain why female migraine patients experience an attack during their menstrual cycle.
Other migraine triggers include:
- Weather changes
- Lack of sleep
- Loud sounds and flashing lights
- Foods containing artificial sweeteners or monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Migraine Medication: A Closer Look
Migraine treatments are no longer limited to prophylactic and pain-relieving medications. Today, patients can use CGRP monoclonal antibody injections to prevent migraine attacks.
According to AI-analyzed crowdsourced data, effective monoclonal antibody treatments for migraine include:
- Galcanezumab (Emgality injection)
- Erenumab (Aimovic injection)
- Fremanezumab (Ajovy injection)
These medications have been approved by the FDA for the prevention of migraine.
Additionally, 5-HT1F receptor agonists, such as lasmiditan, can be used to relieve migraine headaches. These drugs bind with serotonin receptors, thus improving the nervous system's response to pain.
5-HT1F drugs work on pain pathways in the human body. They can help overcome the limitations of triptans, which can't be used for patients with a history of heart disease.
Similarly, patients have also found relief by administering Zapain, a drug that combines acetaminophen and codeine phosphate. Unlike regular painkillers, Zapain isn't known to cause any detrimental side effects.
Other Migraine Treatments
Neuromodulators, such as Cefaly, are proving to be effective in preventing migraine attacks. These devices use electric currents to alter brain activity in patients with migraines. Similarly, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) devices can be used to manage migraine symptoms.
Medical professionals are also exploring botox and SPG (sphenopalatine ganglion) stimulation devices to relieve pain and other migraine symptoms.
Moreover, alternative treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based therapy, also improve the quality of life of individuals with migraine.
Lifestyle Changes for Migraine
In recent years, scientists have discovered a strong correlation between lifestyle and migraine triggers. Stress, anxiety, weather changes, unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise can cause migraine attacks.
Therefore, patients need to use suitable measures to alleviate stress. Patients are advised to follow healthy sleep hygiene practices to get at least 8 hours of shut-eye every night.
It is equally important to get a balanced diet packed with minerals, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and other essential nutrients. Patients should avoid consuming processed foods that contain artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
Staying away from foods that contain sugar and caffeine is recommended. Additionally, patients should avoid alcohol consumption or cigarette smoking.
Also, it is a good idea to embrace an active lifestyle that incorporates some form of physical exercise. Patients should try to find activities that can be done outdoors.
While migraine can't be cured, advanced treatment options are available to prevent attacks and alleviate symptoms. Also, lifestyle changes, such as physical exercise and a balanced diet, can help manage migraines. However, patients are advised to avoid self-treating their condition with over-the-counter drugs.