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Why Do I Keep Getting Migraine Attacks?

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Migraine attacks are more than just headaches; they’re a significant neurological condition affecting over a billion people worldwide. If you’re frequently experiencing migraine episodes, you’re not alone.

Defining Migraine and Its Symptoms

Migraine attacks are distinct from other types of headaches, characterized by specific symptoms like throbbing pain, either on one side of the head or spreading to both sides, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and sometimes visual disturbances known as aura.

Unlike common tension headaches, migraine attacks can significantly impair your ability to perform daily activities.

Common Triggers of Migraine Episodes

Migraine attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors, which differ from person to person.

Dietary Factors Contributing to Migraine

Dietary choices can significantly influence the frequency and severity of migraine episodes.

Common dietary triggers include caffeine and alcohol, particularly red wine. Foods containing tyramine, such as aged cheeses and processed meats, can also provoke migraine attacks.

Additionally, additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in processed foods, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and certain preservatives are known to trigger migraine episodes in some people.

Irregular meal times and skipping meals can trigger migraine attacks, as they may lead to drops in blood sugar levels.

Environmental and Sensory Stimuli

Exposure to bright or flickering lights, loud noises, and strong odors can initiate migraine episodes.

Additionally, changes in weather, such as shifts in barometric pressure or extreme temperatures, trigger migraine in some people.

Being aware of these environmental and sensory triggers can help you take preventive measures to reduce the frequency of your migraine attacks.

Lifestyle and Stress

Both lack of exercise and intense physical exertion can be triggers. Poor stress management can lead to more frequent migraine episodes.

Stress contributing to migraine can also arise from factors beyond personal control, such as demanding work environments, family pressures, or challenging life events, all of which can significantly impact migraine frequency and severity. Don’t discount the role of physical stress, such as fatigue or overexertion, and environmental stressors, like bright lights or loud noises.

The Role of Hormonal Changes in Migraine

Hormonal fluctuations can be a significant factor:

  • Menstrual migraine: Many people experience migraine tied to their menstrual cycle due to hormonal changes.
  • Hormone therapy: Hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills can also influence migraine patterns.

Genetic Predisposition and Family History

Migraine often has a hereditary component, making genetic predisposition and family history significant factors in their occurrence.

If you have close family members who experience migraine episodes, your likelihood of experiencing them increases. This genetic link suggests that certain inherited traits may make individuals more susceptible to the common triggers of migraine.

Research continues to explore the specific genes involved in migraine to understand this connection better. Recognizing a family history of migraine can be crucial in anticipating and managing your migraine episodes effectively.

Medical Conditions That May Cause Migraine

Various medical conditions are known to be associated with an increased frequency of migraine. These include:

  • Neurological disorders: Conditions like epilepsy, stroke, or multiple sclerosis have been linked to a higher occurrence of migraine.
  • Cardiovascular issues: Certain heart-related problems, including arrhythmias and hypertension, can be associated with migraine, particularly those with aura.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Conditions that affect hormonal balance, such as thyroid disorders or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can influence migraine patterns.
  • Sleep disorders: Poor sleep quality or specific sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia can trigger migraine episodes.
  • Psychiatric conditions: Anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder are often comorbid with migraine, suggesting a link between these conditions and the frequency of migraine episodes.
  • Digestive disorders: Gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or celiac disease can also be associated with migraine, possibly due to shared inflammatory pathways.

Addressing these underlying medical conditions can often lead to improved migraine management.

Medications and Substances That May Exacerbate Migraine

Certain medications and substances can contribute to the frequency and intensity of migraine episodes:

  • Medication overuse: Overusing headache medications, such as triptans or over-the-counter pain relievers, can lead to rebound headaches, worsening the migraine condition.
  • Blood pressure medications: Some of these medications trigger migraine attacks as a side effect, though this varies from person to person.
  • Hormonal medications: Hormone replacement therapy and certain birth control pills may affect migraine patterns.
  • Caffeine and alcohol: While moderate caffeine intake might alleviate migraine pain for some, excessive use can trigger migraine. Similarly, alcoholic beverages, especially red wine, are known triggers.

Managing Migraine: Prevention and Treatment

Effectively managing migraine involves a combination of prevention strategies and treatment options tailored to your specific needs:

  • Preventive measures: One of the key aspects of managing migraine is to identify and avoid known triggers. This might include dietary changes, stress management techniques, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Keeping a migraine diary can be a helpful tool in identifying patterns and triggers.
  • Lifestyle changes: Incorporating regular exercise, practicing relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation, and ensuring consistent hydration can significantly impact your migraine frequency and severity. Additionally, paying attention to your posture, especially if you spend long hours at a desk, can help prevent tension-type headaches that may trigger migraine.
  • Medications for acute attacks: Over-the-counter pain relievers can be effective for some people. However, if your migraine are severe or frequent, your doctor might prescribe specific migraine medications like triptans to treat the symptoms of a migraine attack.
  • Preventive medications: If you experience frequent or severe migraine, your doctor may recommend preventive medications. These can include beta-blockers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and CGRP inhibitors, which are taken regularly to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine.
  • Emerging therapies: Stay informed about new treatments. Advances in migraine therapy, such as Botox injections and new classes of drugs like CGRP monoclonal antibodies, have shown promise in preventing migraine.
  • Complementary therapies: Some individuals find relief through complementary therapies such as acupuncture, biofeedback, and herbal supplements. Discuss these options with your health care provider to ensure they complement your overall treatment plan.
  • Regular check-ups: Regular visits to your health care provider are crucial for monitoring your condition and adjusting your treatment

When to See a Doctor

Consult a health care professional when you observe:

  • Increase in frequency or severity: Your migraine attacks become more frequent or severe.
  • Ineffectiveness of over-the-counter medication: If your usual medications no longer provide relief.
  • New symptoms: If you are experiencing stiffness in the neck, aura for the first time, or stroke-like symptoms.

It can be challenging and frustrating to deal with migraine symptoms constantly. It’s not just about the pain; it’s about how migraine can affect your day-to-day life. You are not alone in this. Many people face similar experiences, and there’s a community out there that understands exactly what you’re going through.

Discovering why you get migraine attacks is a personal journey influenced by a mix of factors like family history, diet, and even your daily environment. Keep exploring what triggers your migraine and what helps. Talk to your doctor, make those lifestyle tweaks, and stay informed. While migraine does not have a cure yet, each step you take is progress, a move toward better managing your migraine and improving your overall well-being. You’ve got this!

Getty image by The Good Brigade

Originally published: November 14, 2023
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