29.5 Million Americans Suffer from Migraines, but is Your Headache Really A Migraine?

Have you ever wondered why your headache just won’t go away? It could be because you’re not treating it correctly. There are several types of headaches, which we often confuse with one another. Each is marked by different symptoms and characteristics. In order to properly treat a headache, you must be able to identify which type of headache you’re experiencing.

  • Tension Headache - Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and as many as 30 to 78 percent of the general population experience them during their lifetime. This type of headache appears periodically and can last from 30 minutes to several days. The pain is a mild to moderate pressure or tightness, which typically doesn’t interfere with daily activities. Over-the-counter pain medications can be used to treat tension headaches.
  • Sinus Headache - This type of headache consists of constant pressure or tenderness over the sinus areas including the cheekbones, forehead and nose. The defining factor of a sinus headache is the presence of nasal discharge, congestion, facial swelling, ear sensations or fullness and in many cases a fever. Treatments for sinus headaches can include decongestions, pain relievers or antibiotics in the case of an infection.
  • Cluster Headaches - This type of headache is the least common type of “headache” and its cause is unknown. Cluster headaches reoccur over a period of time. Periods can last for several weeks to months then disappear. Each attack is short lasting, severely painful and typically localized to one side of the head. There are no warning signs for a cluster headache. Treatments are available through your health care professional.
  • Migraines - Migraines are less common than tension headaches. Migraines can last from four to 72 hours on average. Symptoms of a migraine include moderate to severe pain affecting daily activities, nausea, vomiting, light and sound sensitivity and aura. Aura is a warning symptom that can occur before, during or after the onset of a migraine, consisting of blurred vision, blind spots, flashing dots or lights and other visual disturbances. Aura’s typically last 20 to 30 minutes.

More than 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraines, with women being affected three times more often than men. One of the reasons women are affected more by migraines is because hormone changes serve as a migraine trigger. Many women experience migraines before or during their menstrual cycle.

Identifying a Migraine

The ID Migraine Questionnaire, developed by Dr. Richard Lipton, is a simple three question test used to determine if you’re suffering from migraines or another type of headache. According to his research, if two of the three criteria are present, a migraine is likely 93 percent of the time, and if all three are present a migraine diagnosis is 98 percent likely.

  • In the last three months, how disabling are your headaches; do they interfere with your ability to function? (Are you missing work, school and family activities?)
  • Are your headaches ever associated with nausea?
  • Are your headaches ever associated with sensitivity to light?

Migraines are often misdiagnosed as sinus headaches since they have similar symptoms. According to the American Headache Society Committee on Headache Education, 90 percent of the time a self-diagnosed sinus headache is a migraine. Less than half of all migraine sufferers have received a diagnosis of migraine from their health care provider. If you have headaches that continuously interfere with your daily life and that don’t respond to over-the-counter medicines, you may be suffering from migraines. Visit your health care professional to get the proper treatment.

Strategies for Living with Migraines

Migraine sufferers vary in their sensitivity to specific foods, and triggers to foods may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 72 hours to develop, making them often very difficult to pinpoint, says the National Headache Foundation. Experts recommend keeping a daily journal of food intake and activity can help pinpoint specific triggers. By doing this you may be able to determine a pattern and prevent future migraines. This can be time consuming, but is helpful to both you and your health care professional when determining the right course of treatment for you.

The second strategy is preventing and coping with your headaches through lifestyle change. Several triggers are out of your control including the weather, travel and odors such as cigarette smoke, but many common triggers can be controlled by adapting certain habits. Long Beach Medical Center encourages you to focus on the common triggers, such as, sleep, diet, exercise, hydration and stress management.

  • Sleep – Feeling well-rested may keep a headache at bay. It is ideal to get eight hours of sleep each night. Try not to sleep in too late on the weekends and sleep too little on the weekdays. Make it a habit to go to bed and wake up at regular times all week long.
  • Diet – Keeping your meals routine also can help you avoid headaches. Delaying or skipping meals can cause your blood sugar to dip, causing the “hungry headache.” To avoid this, you should eat balanced meals throughout the day. The best diet consists of as many fresh foods as possible. You should include a good protein source at each meal/snack (i.e., milk, meat, fish) and should avoid eating high sugar foods by themselves, says the American Headache Society Committee on Headache Education. Alcohol and caffeine both can be triggers for headaches; each should be used in moderation.
  • Exercise - Exercise can help you fight other headache triggers such as anxiety, poor sleep, sadness, stress, and waist and weight gain. Aerobic level activity leads to an increase in natural body joy and pain control chemicals according to the American Headache Society Committee on Headache Education. However, too strenuous of exercise also can lead to a headache. Moderation is the key.
  • Hydration - Dehydration is a risk for a headache. Weather is a headache trigger, so hydration is especially important on hot days. Prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of water.
  • Stress - Stress is the most commonly recognized trigger of headaches says the National Headache Foundation. Anything that increases your emotional and physical stress level can trigger a headache. Factors related to stress include anxiety, worry, shock, depression, excitement and mental fatigue. You can’t always avoid stress, but you can alter the way you respond to it.