Don’t delay treating migraines

Migraine Illustration picture

KUCHING: Migraine attacks can afflict men, women, and children but it is not an equal opportunity disorder.

Migraine attacks commonly involve a painful throbbing pain – often on one side of the head, sometimes both, and can have far-reaching consequences.

Sunway Medical Centre consultant neurologist Dr Raymond Tan said that migraine as an incapacitating neurological disorder, comes with wide range of symptoms, including blurred vision, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to lights, noises, and scents, and – for some, aura or focal neurologic symptoms.

“Attacks can last between four to 72 hours,” he said.

The vast majority of those who suffer chronic crippling attacks are women.

When it comes to migraine attacks, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sharmina Kamal said the difference between men and women is largely due to a specific hormonal change, namely estrogen that helps regulate the female reproductive system and controls chemicals in the brain that impact the sensation of pain.

“Therefore, a drop in estrogen levels can contribute to the development of chronic headaches or migraines,” she said.

In childhood, she said migraines are more prevalent in males, however, once the influence of estrogen begins, that is when the prevalence starts to rise in females, contributing to more common, longer-lasting headaches in women between the ages of 20 and 45.

“Along with hormonal changes, there are other factors and events that could trigger a migraine, which include lack of sleep or too much sleep, skipped meals, weather changes, alcohol and caffeine.

“These factors coupled with stress have led migraines to be part and parcel of many women’s day-to-day lives,” she said.

The good news is that migraine is a modifiable disorder and there is hope for seeking relief through very simple things.

Dr Tan said the best thing to do at the start of a migraine is to stop any activity and get some rest, preferably in a quiet and dim lit room or area.

“Taking a simple analgesic like paracetamol at the start of the migraine often helps to limit the severity. Application of topical menthol may also lessen the intensity of acute migraines, although this is best avoided in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding,” he said.

He said combining therapy or medication with behavioural measures and lifestyle that promote overall good health can often be the most effective way to handle migraine attacks.

“For example, maintaining a healthy lifestyle includes nutritious foods, adequate hydration, frequent exercise, and proper sleep. You can also speak to your physician about daily vitamins or supplements, such as vitamin B or magnesium,” he said.

Signs that it is more than just a migraine

Dr Tan said occasionally, the migraine attacks persist for more than 72 hours and become debilitating and resistant to conventional treatment.

“And in cases associated with persistent vomiting, this could lead to potential dehydration and its associated problems, which could require hospitalisation with intravenous fluids and medications,” he said.

He said young women who experience migraines with aura, especially those who smoke or use oral contraceptives, have an increased incidence of stroke and, in some cases, can cause seizures.

“With that, it is advisable for women at risk to avoid smoking and choose other forms of contraception, if possible,” he said.

If you need care, don’t delay. When it comes to treating migraines, timing is everything. Waiting too long to address your migraine symptoms or take preventive steps can increase how often and severely a migraine strikes.

Know and avoid your triggers, treat symptoms early, and find medications or therapies that work best to relieve your migraine pain.

The following are some signs that you should get medical help right away:

· Uncontrollable vomiting
· Loss of consciousness
· Seizures or convulsions
· Blurred vision or other vision changes
· Loss of balance or coordination

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