Migraine shouldn’t be confused with a headache. Pain can be one of its components, but migraine is actually a neurological disorder that produces discrete or overlapping attacks composed of numerous neurological symptoms. These include sensory sensitivity, mood changes, nausea and vomiting, and difficulty focusing.
Migraine also differs from the common tension-type headache in that a simple over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen doesn’t resolve the symptoms.
Migraine is common. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is the sixth-most disabling disease worldwide. And one in four American families has someone living with chronic migraine, defined as 15 or more migraine days per month.
A migraine attack, which is what the discrete episodes are called, affects each person somewhat differently, but it’s always a bumpy ride.
At Primecare Family Practice, board-certified family practitioners Maryline Ongangi, APRN, FNP-C and Lewis Nyantika, APRN, FNP-C provide treatment for all kinds of headache disorders, including migraine. They recognize there are many myths and untruths circulating about what triggers migraine attacks, but they want to reassure their patients in the Arlington, Texas, area that weather changes are, in fact, a likely culprit. Here’s why.
The exact cause of migraine is unknown, but doctors believe there’s a genetic link since migraine often runs in families. Environmental factors likely trigger the genetic component of the disorder.
Some people living with migraine find that certain things trigger an attack: specific foods, caffeine, tobacco, lack of sleep, hormonal changes, and weather changes, among other things. But others seem to have no identifiable triggers.
Migraine pain is generally considered more severe than the common tension-type headache. Instead of diffuse pain, it usually affects only one side of the head, most often as a pulsing or throbbing sensation that gets worse with movement.
In addition, a migraine attack comes with a variety of neurological symptoms that includes:
A migraine attack contains four distinct stages, though you can get just one, or any combination of the four. In order of presentation, the stages are:
This is the warning period, which starts 1-2 days before the pain stage starts. Symptoms include mood changes, uncontrollable yawning, confusion, and a sense that something is wrong.
Migraine attacks can happen with aura or without aura. Generally, a person experiences only one of these types.
Those who experience the aura stage may see lightning bolts or zigzag lines across their vision (the most common), have muscle weakness, or produce garbled speech. Auras generally last about 20-30 minutes before the pain phase hits.
Interestingly, in women over 70, migraine attacks generally present as an aura, but it’s not followed by the pain phase.
This stage is when the pain hits, and it’s what most people think of as a migraine attack, even though it’s only one component. For some people, the pain starts gradually; for others it hits all at once. It may creep up the back of your neck, then settle into a throbbing on one side of your head and in the eyeball. It can last anywhere from 4-72 hours.
Even once the pain starts to recede, the attack isn’t over. Most people experience a postdrome stage, something like a post-adrenaline crash. It’s common to feel weak, tired, and mentally foggy for a couple more days.
Barometric pressure plays a role in triggering many people’s migraine attacks.
Before a storm, cold and warm air create variations in air pressure. Your nasal and sinus cavities are hollow chambers that fill with air, so any change in air pressure, especially a drop before a storm, affects those areas. The change forces fluid into the nasal and sinus tissues, causing a disruption in fluid balance.
In addition to typical neurological migraine symptoms, those who have an attack triggered by barometric pressure may experience:
Weather changes are usually felt during the prodrome and aura phases but can last into the pain phase. If you have migraine with aura, you’re also likely to experience visual and sensory changes.
In addition, some researchers think the barometric change may affect the pressure on the brain tissue and how your brain blocks or doesn’t block pain.
Are you struggling with migraine? Do changes in weather bring on an attack? Primecare Family Practice can help. To get started, call us at 817-873-3710, or book online with us today.