A guide to understanding and managing migraines

Posted on: 16 Jan 2024

Migraines can affect anyone, of any age or gender. . In Singapore, particularly, migraines are a common health issue, with a lifetime prevalence of 8.2%, according to SingHealth. The prevalence is the same between boys and girls before puberty at around 3 to 7%. However, the condition becomes more prevalent in women post-puberty due to the influence of hormones and continues until menopause.

Migraines can be debilitating, leading to sufferers staying home in bed and unable to attend school or work. In this article we discuss the causes of migraines and the treatment options available.

What are migraines and their symptoms?

Migraines are not just ordinary headaches; unlike a headache, a migraine is more chronic and localised, only occurring in a particular area of the head, often on one side of the head.

The most prominent feature of a migraine is an intense throbbing or pulsing in the head. They are similar but far more acute than a headache. Other key symptoms of a migraine include nausea, sensitivity to light (photophobia), vomiting and sensitivity to sound (phonophobia).

Common causes of migraines

Understanding why migraines occur is complicated and studies are ongoing.. While the exact cause of this type of headache is not fully understood, various factors contribute to its onset.

Some common causes of migraines include:

  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal fluctuations, particularly in women, are a significant trigger for migraine symptoms. Changes in oestrogen levels that occur during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause can lead to the onset of migraines.
  • Certain beverages: The beverages we consume can also play a role in triggering migraines. Common culprits include alcohol (especially red wine) and caffeinated drinks. When consuming caffeinated drinks, your body becomes dehydrated, causing migraine attacks. lcohol contains a chemical called ethanol that, when consumed, can trigger migraines.
  • Stress: Migraines are commonly triggered by significant stressors. Whether it’s related to work, personal life, or other factors, heightened stress levels can lead to the onset of a migraine. Researchers believe that this is because stress can alter certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, which helps regulate pain.
  • Sleep changes: Disruptions in sleep patterns, whether due to insufficient sleep or irregular sleep schedules, can trigger migraines in some individuals. This is because when your brain is sleep-deprived, it can affect the part of the brain that regulates sleep and arousal, which also contains neurons responsible for modulating pain. As such, it can result in migraines.
  • Physical strain: Although it is still unclear how movement can trigger migraine episodes, actions such as quickly rotating your body, suddenly turning your head, and bending over can cause or aggravate migraine symptoms. It also tends to occur when performing vigorous or strenuous sports or activities, like tennis, weight lifting, and rowing.
  • Medications: Certain medications, including some oral contraceptives and vasodilators, have been associated with migraines. For example, some birth control pills may cause headaches due to the drop in oestrogen.

Treatments that mayhelp manage migraine symptoms

Managing migraine symptoms can be frustrating as one tries various options. Lifestyle changes and certain treatments can help with the causes of migraines. If migraines are negatively affecting your life, please consult a private doctor in Singapore .

1. Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle adjustments are important in managing migraines, offering individuals an opportunity to take control of their well-being. Implementing the following lifestyle changes can contribute to minimising the frequency and severity of your symptoms:

a. Establishing regular sleep patterns

A consistent sleep routine is viewed as an important factor for migraine management. Ways to establish better sleep hygiene may include setting a sleep schedule, having a consistent bedtime routine, and keeping screens away from your bed before you sleep. If you’re having sleep problems in general, learn about the different types of sleep problems and how you can achieve better sleep.

b. Practising stress management techniques

Incorporating stress-reducing activities, like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises, in your daily life can help individuals better cope with stressors and minimise their impact on migraine frequency.

c. Maintaining a healthy diet

A healthy diet helps prevent or manage the occurrence of migraine symptoms. Foods rich in magnesium are suggested to help prevent the severity and frequency of migraine attacks. Examples of foods with magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, beans, and chia seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are also known nutrients that help minimise the frequency and severity of headaches. They can be found in oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, walnuts, and soybeans.

d. Staying hydrated

As dehydration can be a migraine trigger, drinking enough water throughout the day can support your overall health and potentially limit the occurrence of migraines.

2. Medications

Medications are often a crucial component of migraine management, addressing the discomfort and pain and mitigating the risk of the symptoms escalating.

Understanding the available options and consulting your physician is essential for safe and effective use of:

a. Over-the-counter pain relievers

For mild migraines, over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can offer some level of relief. However, it’s important not to rely on these medications excessively, as overuse may lead to rebound headaches.

b. Prescription medications

In cases of more severe or frequent migraines, prescription medications may be necessary. Schedule an appointment with your trusted doctor so they can determine the most appropriate prescription based on your needs and medical history.

a. Relaxation exercises

Incorporating relaxation exercises, such as progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery, can help with tension and stress, possibly contributing to a reduction in migraine frequency.

When to see a doctor in Singapore for migraines

While migraine symptoms can often be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications, there are situations where seeking professional medical advice is essential.

1. Frequent or severe attacks

If migraines occur frequently or become increasingly severe, it is crucial to undergo a general health screening and consult your physician. This is because frequent and severe migraines can significantly impact daily life and may even act as indicators of an underlying issue that requires medical attention.

2. New or worsening symptoms

The appearance of new or worsening symptoms, such as changes in vision, speech difficulties, or motor coordination problems, may be signs of a more serious condition. Seeking medical attention promptly in these situations is vital to rule out any potential complications.

3. Pregnancy or pre-existing health conditions

If you are pregnant or have pre-existing health conditions, it is essential to visit your family physician’s clinic or pregnancy clinic in Singapore for a consultation before starting any migraine management plan. Certain medications or treatments may not be suitable during pregnancy or may interact with existing health conditions.

Tackling migraines to achieve better quality of life

From the above, it is clear that managing migraines involves a multifaceted approach, encompassing lifestyle adjustments, medications, and non-pharmacological methods. While the strategies discussed above can be beneficial in managing the symptoms, it is crucial to emphasise that seeking the guidance of a medical professional is paramount. Migraines vary from person to person, and a healthcare provider can tailor a treatment plan to your specific needs, ensuring safe and effective management of this often debilitating condition.

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