Understanding Chronic Migraines

Chronic Migraines are painful, debilitating and make daily routines difficult to manage. First and foremost, not all headaches are created equal. Migraine headaches should not be confused with "everyday" tension headaches.

Tension headaches are fairly common and can be easily self-diagnosed. While painful, they can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications and don't often last for long durations of time.

Symptoms typically include

  • Dull ache or pressure in the temples or forehead

  • Neck stiffness

  • Tired feeling

The symptoms for a migraine headache are more severe and can last for a few days. Migraines are labeled chronic when they occur 15 or more days per month. Chronic migraines affect about 1% of the US population.

These are the symptoms of a migraine headache

  • Usually felt on only one side of the brain

  • Severe throbbing and pulsating pain

  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

Often times, those who experience chronic migraines begin feeling symptoms a day or two before the actual migraine begins. This period is referred to as the predrome phase. Some of those symptoms include, depression, irritability, neck stiffness and frequent yawning.

There are also two different kinds of migraine headaches: With aura and without aura. Aura refers to sensations that may be felt prior to when a migraine starts, such as seeing flashes of lights, tingling or numbness in the face, dizziness and brain fog. If you experience any of feelings your migraine is considered "with aura." These migraines are less common but can be a clear sign that a migraine is coming.

Overall, migraines can be difficult to diagnose. Chronic headaches may be a secondary condition caused by a different underlying problem and not actually occurring naturally in and of itself.  If you think you are suffering from frequent migraines, it is important to accurately document your symptoms. Having a better understanding of what is happening, when your symptoms occur and how severe they are will help you and your medical care provider to identify the problem.

Similar to many chronic conditions, the cause of migraine headaches is unknown. However, there are certain triggers (same for tension headaches). If these triggers can be better managed migraines may less likely occur.

Triggers include

  • Anxiety and stress

  • Sensory stimulation

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Caffeine

  • Hormones (More typical for women. Women tend to experience hormonal changes more often than men.)

In conclusion, chronic migraines can be quite disabling. Migraine sufferers find it difficult to work or do any of their regular activities. If you are experiencing extreme headaches several times a month, it might be time to talk to your health care provider. Remember, try to be as specific as possible when relaying your symptoms. The better you understand your symptoms and the triggers, the better chance you will have at treating your migraines.