If you have ever experienced a true migraine or suffer from chronic, recurring headaches that last for four hours, you certainly understand the urgency for an effective form of pain relief, as well as some ways to prevent them from occurring.
Moderate to intense throbbing pain that fluctuates for hours and sometimes days, debilitating nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound– migraines are more than just a bad headache, and patients who suffer from chronic migraines know the difference.
When patients experience migraine pain, or pain from any condition, that pain is a signal that something in the body is at risk. Some damage is occurring, or some tissue is in trouble. This triggers an inflammatory response that creates inflammation and swelling in the areas of pain.
This can be very problematic in areas of the body that cannot handle that swelling and puts pressure on all the other tissues in that area. The pain and inflammatory cycle is especially constrictive in areas like the head and neck, where there is no physical tolerance for swelling and inflammation.
Pain signals have the purpose of driving us to seek treatment or to completely stop using the affected area. Self-diagnosis of migraines and a patient’s ability to identify and sometimes avoid the triggers for a migraine have increased alongside our understanding of the condition. However, knowing when and how a migraine is triggered is not enough to treat the condition or reduce its pain.
Types Of Headaches
But these figures alone don’t show the impact that an active headache disorder can have on a person’s life, nor do they describe the types and intensity of symptoms experienced.
To understand this, it is important to look at the different types of headaches and at the symptoms they cause. Let’s look more in-depth at the various types of headaches below.
Primary headaches don’t have another underlying cause, such as an illness or disease. This means that the pain you experience in your head or face is, in itself, the condition.
Primary headaches can be chronic (occurring more than 15 times in a month) or episodic (occurring up to 15 times each month). There are different types of primary headaches, including the following ones:
- Tension headache – These headaches cause dull or aching sensations around the head and are caused by tension in the neck, forehead, scalp, or shoulder muscles.
- Cluster headaches – These are severe headaches that cause a burning or piercing sensation. They may last between 3 and 15 minutes and can recur 1-4 times a day. Other symptoms include tearing eyes, swelling, flushing, and seating.
- Hemicrania continua – Hemicrania continua causes mild but continuous pain on one side of the face for 3 months or longer. Flare-ups are common and they involve symptoms such as eye tearing, nasal congestion, agitation, and sweating.
- Stabbing headache – Ice-pick headaches may cause short and intense pain in your head. The pain lasts only a few seconds, moves around the head, and comes without warning.
- Hypnic headache – Also known as alarm clock headache, this type of head pain recurs at nighttime, during the REM phase of the sleep cycle, and always at the same time.
One of the most common types of primary headaches is migraines. Migraines are neurological diseases caused by changes in the brain’s pathways and chemicals. Migraines involve severe throbbing pain on one side of your head that lasts for days and can be extremely debilitating. These headaches are also accompanied by other symptoms, including vomiting, nausea, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Secondary headaches usually have a well-defined underlying cause and may be the symptom of another illness, disease, or allergic reaction that is happening in the body.
Some triggers of secondary headaches include:
- Head injury
- Hormone fluctuations (i.e.: associated with pregnancy, menstrual cycles, and using birth control pills)
- Overuse of and withdrawal from caffeine
- Exertion and intense physical activity
- High blood pressure
- Medication overuse
Some forms of headaches, such as thunderclap headaches, can either be primary or secondary, depending on whether they are related to an underlying cause or whether they are spontaneous.
Causes Of Migraines
Doctors Kristian Haanes and Lars Edvinsson explain that “the neurovascular theory dominates, suggesting clear involvement of the trigeminovascular system. The most recent data show that a migraine attack most likely originates in the hypothalamus and activates the trigeminal nucleus caudalis (TNC)” (2019).
In other words, the part of our brain responsible for maintaining our body’s stability (the hypothalamus) triggers the part of our brain that responds with pain and heat (the TNC).
The hypothalamus being set off and triggering the adverse effect from the TNC does not always have a clear cause; however, there are several scenarios in which migraine pain can be triggered by anything from food sensitivities, allergies, alcohol, lack of sleep, medications, or changes in the weather.
The Prevalence Of Migraines In The General Population
Overall, migraines are not to be taken lightly, and they affect more people than previously thought. Doctors De Logu and his associates conclude that “[m]igraine is a pain disorder that affects about 15% of the adult population worldwide” (2019).
With around 1.2 billion people suffering from migraines, it is unsurprising that research to understand its origin and the search for a cure has been relentless.
Dr. De Logu continues: “Thus, the burden of migraine is enormous in terms of suffering, disability, healthcare costs, and social and economic costs. For these reasons, migraine is ranked among the most disabling medical conditions.
Although considerable progress has been made in the development of new treatment options, our current understanding of the mechanisms underlying migraine pain is still incomplete.”
Migraines As A Medical Condition
To someone unfamiliar with the condition, let it first be understood that migraines are classified as a neurological medical condition that manifests from a multitude of contributing factors.
Dr. Karl Messlinger, whose research still stands relevant today, explains that “[m]igraine is a complex neurological disease with a genetic background. Headache is the most prominent and clinically important symptom of migraine, but its origin is still enigmatic” (2009).
Since 2009, the condition, origins, and treatment options for migraine pain and chronic headaches have remained mysterious.
Symptoms Of Migraines
Suffering from chronic headaches can prevent you from sleeping, being productive at work, or even concentrating on a task. Learning more about the symptoms of your headache can tell you more about the nature of your condition and help you choose a line of treatment that best suits you.
Below, we’ll look at the common symptoms of migraines and chronic headaches.
A word of caution; if your headaches last more than two days or are accompanied by vision loss, numbness, nosebleeds, shortness of breath, chest pain, high fever, or slurred speech, you should seek immediate medical care. This is because many symptoms of migraines overlap with the signs of serious conditions, such as strokes.
One of the most prominent symptoms of migraine and chronic headaches is pain. While the pain is often localized in one or more areas of the head, it can spread through your neck, shoulders, ears, and arms.
In the case of migraines, painful and throbbing sensations concentrate in one half of the head.
Although it isn’t clear what triggers this kind of pain, theories show that multiple factors might come into play, including hyperactive brain cells that trigger the production of vasoconstricting chemicals, such as serotonin. As the blood vessels narrow, fluctuations in the blood supply to the brain can aggravate the painful sensations.
The pain deriving from migraines can last between 4 and 72 hours.
Light, Noise, And Odor Sensitivity
Migraine and chronic headaches can increase your sensitivity to stimuli such as noise, light, or odors, which can worsen your headache.
This is due to the fact that migraines increase brain connectivity, or the link between the brain and other parts of the body. This changes the way the brain processes visual and auditory noises and alters how pain receptors in the brain work, causing you to be hypersensitive to stimuli that should normally be painless.
Nausea And Vomiting
Nearly 30% of migraine attacks are accompanied by nausea and vomiting, making this one of the most severe and bothersome symptoms of migraines. Although the connection between migraine pain and vomiting isn’t well-understood, researchers have several hypotheses.
Fatigue is a natural part of the migraine’s pathophysiology, or the range of abnormal changes in body functions caused by this disease.
Fatigue and tiredness may also be worsened by pain, vomiting, and feelings of nausea. Additionally, the throbbing pain of a migraine might prevent you from falling asleep and getting a good night of rest, which can aggravate your fatigue.
Migraines may also cause temporary vision changes, including blurred vision, double vision, or blindness in one eye. In most cases, these symptoms are a normal part of the migraine’s “aura”, or wave of brain activity that occurs before the migraine attack.
In some rare cases, blurred vision may be a symptom of retinal migraine; a type of migraine that affects the eye and might lead to serious vision changes, such as seeing flashing lights in one eye or blindness. Retinal migraine is a rare condition that is estimated to occur in 1 in every 200 people with migraines.
Migraine-related vision changes arise from changes in the blood flow reaching the brain as well as vasoconstriction. However, abnormal brain activity and changes in how brain receptors process visual stimuli may also be contributing factors.
The symptoms associated with migraines can vary in nature and intensity from one person to another. You might also experience different symptoms from one migraine to another, depending on what has triggered the attack.
However, some other common symptoms you should be aware of include the following:
- Changes in body temperature – Migraines commonly affect the areas of the brain associated with processing muscle and temperature sensations. Changes in these parts of the brain during a migraine attack can cause you to experience temperature spikes and drops, shivering, fever, chills, or excessive sweating.
- Paleness – Migraines might cause changes in the blood flow, which can lead to pallor (paleness). You might also look paler due to the changes in body temperature, fatigue, or nausea.
- Diarrhea – Beyond vomiting and nausea, migraines are linked to several gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable or inflammatory bowel syndrome. These can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, nausea, or bloating.
- Vertigo – Dizziness and vertigo are common symptoms of a type of migraine called vestibular migraine. These symptoms appear when the migraine affects the area of the brain responsible for balance and coordination.
Other symptoms that might be associated with a migraine attack include allodynia (feeling pain from stimuli that should be painless), mood swings, insomnia, brain fog, neck pain, or phantom smells.
As seen above, every migraine is different. However, the body of research over the past years has been growing and, today, migraines are categorized into three types:
- Migraine with aura – If you have a migraine with aura, you’ll experience warning signs several hours before developing a headache.
- Migraine without aura – This is the most common type of migraine. It occurs suddenly and without warning signs.
- Silent migraines – This happens when you experience the aura, or the premonitory signs of a migraine, but don’t develop a headache.
Migraines with auras are characterized by sensory, visual, and motor disturbances, and they manifest themselves in 4 well-defined phases. Today, it is estimated that nearly 30% of people suffering from migraines will experience at least one premonitory sign.
The prodrome (or pre-headache) phase occurs up to 24 hours before a migraine. During this phase, you’ll experience abnormal sensations that may last for hours or days.
Some of the prodrome symptoms include:
- Food cravings and changes in appetite
- Mood changes and feelings of depression or euphoria
- Increased urination or fluid retention
- Stiffness in the neck
- Excessive yawning
- Hypersensitivity to light, smell, or noise
- Digestive issues like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
Within 24 hours of developing a headache, you might experience what’s called a migraine aura. The exact causes of auras are not well-understood, but it is believed that visual, auditory, and sensory changes are due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
The aura can last between 30 and 60 minutes, and it is characterized by a range of symptoms, which can vary from one person to another.
Common telltale signs of a developing migraine aura include:
- Visual disturbances – These include seeing dots and sparks of light, having tunnel vision, experiencing blurred vision or vision loss, or seeing wavy lines. You may also experience hallucinations.
- Motor and sensory disturbances – Also known as sensorimotor aura, this type of aura causes changes in your movement and sense of touch. You may experience numbness, tingling, changes in smell or taste, and weakness in your arms and legs.
- Impaired speech and communication problems – Although less common, dysphasic migraine aura can cause temporary slurred speech or mumbling.
You may also experience sensations such as being touched or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). Migraine auras can be triggered by several factors, including bright lights, skipping meals, certain foods, stress, certain medications, sleep problems, or hormonal changes.
Learning to recognize the symptoms of an aura can help you go to a safe and comfortable place before the headache starts.
The headache phase is characterized by intense, throbbing pain in one side of the head. The pain will build gradually in intensity and become worse during or after physical activity,
Migraine attacks commonly last around 4 hours, but if left unaddressed, can be painful for up to 3 days. During this time, the pain can move from one side of the head to the other, or even affect both sides.
Symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, sleep disturbances, fatigue, or a feeling of “fainting” are common during this phase.
The postdrome phase occurs after the headache has subsided. During this stage of a migraine, you may feel tired or confused, experience muscle weakness, or have food cravings.
The postdrome stage usually lasts around a day.
Types Of Medications For Migraines
Migraines are difficult to treat because, in most cases, they have no direct cause. Additionally, a lot of how they change over time and the symptoms they cause are not well understood.
However, beyond home remedies such as resting and applying cold compresses to the forehead, patients with migraines often get recommended one of two lines of treatments by their healthcare providers:
- Pain-relievers– These medications are not curative; they only aim to reduce the pain derived from severe headaches. Usually taken during the attack, these medications include pain relievers, prescription drugs that block pain pathways in the brain (triptans), anti-nausea drugs, opioid medications, and medications with sedating effects.
- Preventive treatments – Medications to lower blood pressure, antidepressants, and anti-seizure drugs might be prescribed to patients who suffer from migraines in order to prevent future attacks.
These medications might provide some relief in the short term. However, people who suffer from migraines will experience debilitating headaches an average of 2-4 times each month. Taking migraine medications for such long periods can expose you to significant side effects, including:
- Gastrointestinal problems, like diarrhea, bloating, and nausea
- Fatigue and myalgia
- Weakness and heaviness in the limbs
- Dizziness, confusion, and brain fog
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Chest tightness
- Alopecia and hair loss
- Visual disturbances
- Weight gain and changes in appetite
- Low blood pressure
- Bradycardia or tachycardia
- Sexual and liver dysfunction
Taking these medications over long periods might also lead to increased tolerance, addiction, or dependency.
Fortunately, thanks to advances in migraine treatment research, today’s patients can start to look beyond traditional treatments. Below, we’ll look at the limitations of today’s lines of treatment for migraines and explore the benefits of Neurofunctional Pain Management for chronic headaches.
Are Traditional Migraine Treatments Enough?
Patients don’t want to be addicted to or even dependent on painkillers, especially when those painkillers become less potent over time. When the pills fail, patients will often turn to more potent prescriptions for their migraine pain.
When migraine relief appears beyond reach or its effectiveness is lacking, it may be time to search for an ongoing treatment that is both non-invasive and non-habit forming.
With patients typically running for a glass of water and Tylenol to lessen the pain as it starts ramping up, these methods are not always effective. In fact, in many cases, the use of painkillers to numb the pain can be habit-forming, addictive, and even deadly.
Neurofunctional Pain Management For Migraines
Neuragenex has created and pioneered the field of Neurofunctional Pain Management and may offer a solution to some of the chronic migraine conditions prevalent in the population. Neurofunctional Pain Management is considered the next generation of pain management due to its focus on non-pharmaceutical, non-surgical, and non-invasive treatment protocols.
Neurofunctional Pain Management may offer some excellent treatment options for patients suffering with chronic migraine pain. With Neurofunctional Pain Management, patients will not only acquire pain relief but also a health restoration effort to hydrate the body and balance nutritional deficiencies that contribute to chronic pain conditions.
Foundational Elements Of Neurofunctional Pain Management
An understanding of where the pain comes from in the first place and how it presents, and progresses is the first step in understanding how a treatment program would work. The foundational elements of Neurofunctional Pain Management are high pulse electrical stimulation and specialized hydration therapy.
This combination provides an excellent and enduring pain relief effect for many chronic pain conditions. The combination of these two treatments performed simultaneously is called Neuralgesia. Neuralgesia is a proprietary treatment protocol offered exclusively by Neuragenex.
Because there are many triggering sources of migraine pain, the treatment may be received differently by different patients with migraines occurring from different problems.
This is a much more complex scenario than other chronic pain conditions like osteoarthritis or sciatica, where the source of the pain is a known and understood condition that presents very similarly in most patients.
Migraines are problematic because of their variability so even with Neurofunctional Pain Management the outcomes may vary from patient to patient depending on these many factors.
Neuragenex also includes robust education and lifestyle counseling as part of the Neurofunctional Pain Management program to educate patients on their condition and counsel them on lifestyle changes through their course of treatment.
While patients learn more about their condition and what they can do to help manage the migraine pain on their own, they will go through the treatment protocols of high pulse electrical stimulation and specialized hydration therapy.
Get Help For The Pain. Consult With Us Today.
Neurofunctional Pain Management treatment protocols attempt to reduce the pain-inflammation cycle in multiple essential ways, treating pain through direct stimulation of pain neurons with high-pulse electrical stimulation and adding hydration to dilute the concentrations of inflammatory ions in the affected tissue areas. This two-sided approach gives patients relief from future episodes of migraine pain.
The ultimate goal and objective of Neurofunctional Pain Management is to relieve pain and prevent its recurrence. Neuragenex works towards the same mission: relieving pain, restoring health, and improving quality of life without dependence on drugs, surgery, or invasive procedures.
The first step in that process is to get the patient out of the immediate pain condition and into a state or relief so that they are motivated to engage in health restoration efforts. These additional efforts, such as specialized nutritional deficiency, hydration therapies, and lifestyle modifications, will help the pain relief effect endure for a prolonged period.
When they know they are relieved of pain and their health is better all around, their entire outlook on life changes from restrictions to freedoms. This is a magnified quality of life, and we champion this final step in the process.