How To Spot Migraine Symptoms Early So You Can Take Action Sooner

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If you suffer from migraines, you’re not alone — at least 1 in 6 people in the U.S. experience these severe headaches that can stop you in your tracks.

Migraines typically start slowly and build to throbbing pain, often on one side of the head. During a migraine, you may also experience nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. These symptoms — which you’re more likely to experience if you’re a woman or have a family member who has migraines — can last for a few hours to several days.

“The good news is that there are many treatment options for migraine sufferers. The key is to recognize the early stages of migraines when treatment can be most effective,” says Dace Zvirbulis, M.D., a neurologist at Henry Ford Health.

What Is Migraine Aura?

A flash of light, spots or blurring in your vision are some of the classic symptoms — called auras — that can occur hours before a migraine headache sets in. Sometimes these symptoms are so subtle or brief you might not easily notice them. Other people have symptoms like numbness on one side of the body or difficulty speaking that are tough to ignore.

About 75% of migraine sufferers don’t actually experience aura, however. Instead, they may experience symptoms called prodrome. These symptoms include fatigue, food cravings, more frequent urination and mood changes.

Aura and prodrome symptoms vary from person to person, says Dr. Zvirbulis. So it’s important to pay attention to what you experience prior to a migraine. “Adults and children with migraines should be on the lookout for these changes so they can take steps to prevent or reduce the severity of a migraine episode.”

It’s also essential to distinguish between symptoms of migraines and other headaches to ensure you find the right treatment. “Many people believe they’re having a sinus headache rather than a migraine when they experience pain on their forehead and face,” says Dr. Zvirbulis. “However, you most likely have a migraine unless you have a fever and nasal congestion.”

Understanding Migraine Triggers

Another way of preventing or limiting migraines is to understand what can trigger your headache. “People who experience migraines have brains more sensitive to changes within their bodies and environment,” says Dr. Zvirbulis.

You may not be able to control body changes that trigger a headache. But it’s helpful to know if you’re at increased risk so you can avoid some triggers and find the right treatment.

In women, hormonal changes can trigger migraines. Pregnant women may experience more migraines at the beginning of pregnancy. Women in perimenopause have fluctuating estrogen levels and are also more likely to get migraines.

While there’s not a lot you can do about normal hormonal swings, there are other triggers that you can avoid or minimize, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine and some foods (chocolate, processed meats and aged cheese)
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Loud noises or strong smells
  • Skipping meals
  • Stress and anxiety

“There are some lifestyle changes that can help prevent migraines or reduce their frequency. Get a good night’s sleep, eat a healthy diet, stay hydrated and practice relaxation techniques and meditation to combat stress. Regular aerobic exercise also reduces your risk for migraines,” says Dr. Zvirbulis.

Migraine Headache Treatments

Your primary care physician or a neurologist can help identify the right treatment based on your medical history and the frequency and severity of your headaches. Migraine treatments are classified according to whether you take them as needed after pain begins, or before the migraine starts, as prevention.

As-Needed Migraine Treatments

If you experience occasional migraines, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and prescription medications to block nerve pathways that cause migraines are most effective when taken as soon as the first signs appear.

A new generation of wearable devices provide electrical stimulation to reduce or stop headache pain, as an alternative to medication.

Though they can be effective, Dr. Zvirbulis cautions against the frequent use of as-needed medications. “If taken more than two times per week, these medications may cause chronic migraines that are more difficult to treat,” she says.

Preventive Migraine Treatments

Preventive treatment options are for people with frequent or severe migraines. Depending upon the type of treatment, you may take a daily pill or have monthly or quarterly injections.

The newest migraine-specific medications, CGRP (calcitonin gene-related peptide) monoclonal antibodies, have been effective in reducing migraine episodes. Some patients may also benefit from treatments like Botox. Both of these classes of drugs disrupt different nerve pathways in the brain that trigger migraines.

“For those people with debilitating migraines, preventive therapies offer a better quality of life by reducing the frequency, duration and severity of headache attacks,” says Dr. Zvirbulis.

When to See Your Doctor For Migraine

If migraines interfere with your daily activities, track your headaches and possible triggers so you can share this information with your doctor.

“There’s no reason to suffer,” says Dr. Zvirbulis. “When migraines get in the way of everyday life, see your doctor to find a treatment that provides relief.”

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To find a doctor or neurologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Dace Zvirbulis specializes in neurology and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Henry Ford Hospital West Bloomfield.

Categories: FeelWell