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If you've ever experienced a migraine headache, you know how horrible they are. Migraines are intense headaches that cause throbbing or pulsing in your head and often come with nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, lightheadedness, and sensitivity to sound and light. They can last for hours and even days. Sometimes, you'll be warned several days in advance that one is coming on by depression, constipation, diarrhea, irritability, or other signs. Then you many experience a flash of light, tingling in your leg or arm, or blind spots. Up next comes the pain of the migraine headache. Finally, during the final phase, you may feel drained or even euphoric. Medications, home remedies, and lifestyle changes often make a big difference in the severity and frequency of migraines, but as with most painful things, it's better to avoid migraines than to recover from them.
So what causes such horrible headaches? Here are some of the most common.
As if that time of the month for women weren't hard enough, migraines can make premenstrual syndrome a nightmare. Before a women's menstrual cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This is the time during which migraine headaches often occur in women.
Some women find that birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy high in estrogen also trigger migraines. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about switching pills.
Certain foods have come to light as possible migraine triggers. However, there isn't much scientific evidence or research to confirm these theories. It's difficult to come up with a universal list of food triggers, because each person's experience is different and not everyone reacts the same way to the same food. Sometimes it's a combination of certain foods that winds up being the culprit. Other times, a migraine is brought on by a combination of certain foods with stress or hormonal changes. Since different foods cause migraines in different people, pay attention to what you eat or drink before a migraine comes along. To better focus in on food triggers, keep a food and migraine diary.
Common food and drinks blamed for migraines include alcohol, too much caffeine, chocolate, artificial sweeteners, food additives, and tyramine and tannins (natural food compounds). Tyramine is found in foods such as avocados, ripe bananas, aged cheese, pork, processed meats, nuts, chocolate, soy foods, beer, and red wine. Food and drink containing tannins include tea, coffee, chocolate, red wine, nuts, and apple juice.
Research has shown a connection between sleep habits and the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. Getting the recommended number of hours of continuous sleep each night, having a regular bedtime, and getting up at the same time each morning all seem to lessen the likelihood of a migraine.
On the other hand, not getting sufficient uninterrupted sleep and having an irregular sleep schedule are both triggers of migraine headaches. This shows that migraines aren't always caused by outside factors, but are often brought on by lifestyle choices.
One of the most common causes of migraines is stress. Those who suffer from migraines are often highly emotional and more effected by stressful occurrences. The release of naturally occurring chemicals in the body during stressful events (the fight or flight response) can be a cause of migraines. If you know that stress is a trigger for you, look into ways to manage your stress level through counseling, outlets like exercise, or relaxation techniques. If possible, make lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of stress in your life.
If you've had a migraine, you know you never want to experience one again. Knowing your triggers and avoiding them is a step in the right direction. If you suffer from frequent or debilitating headaches, make an appointment to see a physician. They can help determine the possible cause and if necessary, prescribe medication to relieve your pain.