What are migraines?

Migraines are classified as a primary headache disorder involving episodes of strong headaches, which are sometimes accompanied by visual or sensory symptoms (called “aura”) and nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and cognitive impairment. Although primary headaches are a type of headache that can be quite debilitating and cause significant pain, they are also typically benign, meaning that they do not arise from an underlying cause or structural problems.

If you suffer from migraines, you are not alone: according to a report released by Statistics Canada on the prevalence of migraines, approximately 2.7 million Canadians (or 8.3% of the population) suffer from migraines. In addition, up to 26% of migraine sufferers have reported that migraines prevented them from their normal daily activities.

How are migraines treated?

Although most migraines can be treated at home by rest and over-the-counter medications, such as Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen, some types of migraines warrant a visit to your doctor’s office, even if they’re not an emergency.

Your doctor can carry out an assessment and rule out any other potentially serious conditions, and prescribe medications that can be taken to stop the progression of a migraine, which are referred to as “abortive” migraine medications. These include some selective serotonin receptor agonists (such as triptans), ergotamines, and analgesics. In addition, a number of medications can be prescribed to prevent the occurrence of migraines, and these are referred to as “preventive” migraine medications, which include antiepileptic drugs, beta blockers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and botulism toxin.

If you notice the appearance of the following signs or symptoms, it is time to see your doctor.

  1. Your migraines become too frequent

Among migraine sufferers, it is common to have recurring migraines, with frequency of patterns ranging from several times a week to once every few years. If you find that your migraine attacks have become more frequent, or if you suffer from migraines more than five days a month (or have more than three migraines a week), it is time to see your general practitioner.

  1. Changes in your migraine symptoms

Migraine symptoms often include nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Migraines can also be accompanied by aura, or in some cases, aura symptoms can appear without the headache. If you suffer from recurrent migraines, you will likely know your “personal” headache symptoms, and if you find that your symptoms change or get worse, it is best to let your doctor know. In addition, you should consult a health professional if your migraines start to be triggered by coughing, sneezing, bending over, or by physical exercise.

  1. Your migraines become too severe

If you find that the intensity of your migraines increases, it is time to talk to your doctor. A typical migraine headache lasts for a period of less than 24 hours. Sometimes, a migraine can be as brief as 20 minutes, but in other cases, migraines can also last for weeks.

  1. Your migraines interfere with your daily life

Migraines can severely affect your quality of life and stop you carrying out your normal daily activities. If your migraines are getting in the way of your daily life, and you find that you cannot perform normal activities, such as working or sleeping, you should consider seeing your doctor to find a treatment that works for you.

  1. You are self-medicating too often

Over-the-counter medication can sometimes be effective in treating migraines. However, if you find yourself taking pain relievers more than two days a week, you should probably book an appointment with your doctor to talk about your migraines. In addition, it is also recommended to talk to your health practitioner if your migraines worsen or do not improve with the proper use of over-the-counter medications. Finally, it is important to see a doctor if the recommended dosage of an over-the-counter medication is not adequate for you, and if you need more than two to three doses of over-the-counter medications per week to feel better.

Although not every severe migraine is an emergency, your migraine needs emergency medical attention if you are experiencing the following symptoms:

– If your headache or migraine involves blurred vision, double vision or loss of vision (or blind spots), feelings of weakness, slurred speech, or memory loss. These could be potential signs of stroke, and need to be taken very seriously.

– If your migraine results in a high fever and causes you to vomit uncontrollably.

– If your migraine wakes you up at night.

– If you suddenly experience the most severe headache you have ever had, which does not get better, but only gets worse.

– If you experience a migraine that is accompanied by a stiff neck, fever and vomiting and/or diarrhoea. These could be signs of a serious infection.

– If you experience a migraine following a head injury.

– If you experience a migraine that lasts longer than 72 hours, with less than a four-hour pain-free period.