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[New York Pain Management] Common Misconceptions About Migraines and How to Find Relief

Updated: Jul 2

migraine treatment

Migraines, often shrouded in misconceptions and misunderstood by many, are complex neurological phenomena that can significantly impact the lives of those affected. From attributing triggers like chocolate to dismissing migraines as mere headaches, misconceptions abound, hindering proper understanding and treatment.


In this blog post, we'll tackle some of the most common migraine myths and provide factual information on migraine causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. Our goal is to debunk migraine misconceptions so you can better understand this problem.


Knowing the facts will help you get proper treatment and manage your migraines more effectively, especially with the help of a pain management specialist. So read on to learn the truth about these painfully misunderstood headaches!


Myth 1: Migraines are just bad headaches

woman experiencing headache

Migraines are often misunderstood as being just really bad headaches. However, migraines are actually a distinct condition that goes far beyond a severe headache.


While headaches involve pain and discomfort in the head, migraines are characterized by additional symptoms like:

- Nausea and vomiting

- Sensitivity to light, sound, and smells

- Visual disturbances like seeing auras or zigzag lines

- Dizziness 

- Temporary numbness or weakness


The pain from migraine headaches also tends to be more severe and throbbing compared to tension headaches. Migraines often occur on one side of the head.


The symptoms of a migraine attack can be debilitating and disrupt normal functioning. Migraine sufferers often have to lie down in a dark, quiet room until an attack subsides.


So, while a migraine attack involves head pain like a headache, migraines are complex neurological diseases that feature symptoms beyond just a bad headache. Understanding the differences is important for getting an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.


Myth 2: Migraines are triggered by chocolate

A prevalent misconception suggests that chocolate serves as a trigger for migraines. While certain foods can indeed act as triggers for some individuals, research indicates that chocolate is not a common culprit.


headache triggers

The main migraine triggers are:

- Stress

- Hormonal changes 

- Bright or flashing lights

- Lack of sleep

- Changes in weather

- Strong smells

- Alcohol

- Caffeine withdrawal


So, while chocolate can cause headaches in some due to ingredients like phenylethylamine or tyramine, for most people, it does not directly trigger migraines. Those who get migraines after eating chocolate may be reacting to other components or having cravings during the migraine. Keeping a food diary can help identify your personal triggers.


Myth 3: Migraines aren't serious

Many people believe that migraines are just bad headaches that aren't very serious. However, this myth couldn't be further from the truth. Migraines can cause severe pain and disability for those who suffer from them.


Migraine pain is often described as a throbbing, pounding sensation, usually on one side of the head. The pain can be so intense that it interferes with daily activities. Many migraine sufferers require bed rest while experiencing an attack. The frequency of migraines can vary from person to person. Some people have a few migraines per year, while others experience them several times per month. Frequent migraines can significantly impact the quality of life.


In addition to pain, migraines often cause other debilitating symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. The pain and associated symptoms mean missed days at work or school for many people with migraines.


Clearly, migraines can't simply be dismissed as minor headaches. They are, in fact, a serious medical condition that can greatly affect one's ability to carry out daily activities and maintain quality of life. Proper treatment is essential for managing migraine symptoms and reducing the frequency of attacks.


Myth 4: Migraines are untreatable

Migraines can often be effectively managed through various treatment strategies. While medications are often used to treat migraines, they can cause unwanted side effects in the long run. Many people are able to find relief through personalized treatment plans. Some of the most common migraine treatment options include:


Botox: Botox injections every 12 weeks have been shown to reduce migraine frequency and intensity for some patients. Botox works to relax migraine-triggering muscles.


acupuncture

Lifestyle changes: Avoiding potential triggers, staying hydrated, managing stress, getting regular sleep, and exercising may all help mitigate migraines for some people. Keeping a migraine diary can help identify personal triggers. 


Alternative therapies: Options like acupuncture, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, and biofeedback training have demonstrated benefits for migraine relief and prevention in some cases.


While various treatment approaches can provide real relief, working closely with your doctor to find the right therapies for your symptoms and needs is crucial. Many people are able to effectively manage their migraines through an individualized, multimodal treatment plan.


What Causes Migraines?

Migraines are complex conditions influenced by various factors. Researchers have identified key contributors to migraine development, including disruptions in brain nerve cell activity and neurotransmitter levels like serotonin, triggering blood vessel dilation and pain receptor stimulation.


The trigeminal nerve system, extending to facial areas, can transmit migraine pain signals exacerbated by triggers such as light, stress, or certain foods. Genetics plays a significant role along with environmental triggers like stress, hormonal changes, and weather fluctuations. Understanding these factors through ongoing research is crucial in deciphering the biological mechanisms behind migraines.


Migraine Symptoms

headache warning signs

Migraines involve a wide range of symptoms that vary from person to person. The most common symptom is an intense, throbbing headache on one side of the head. However, headaches are just one potential symptom of a migraine attack.


Migraine symptoms can be broken down into four phases, though not everyone experiences every phase:


Prodrome - Early signs a migraine is coming on include fatigue, mood changes (irritability, depression), food cravings, neck stiffness, increased urination, and sensitivity to light or sound. These symptoms may start hours or days before the headache phase of the migraine.


Aura - About 25% of those with migraines experience sensory disturbances right before or during a migraine attack. These aura symptoms can include visual problems like seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, blurry vision, or blind spots. Other potential aura components are tingling, numbness, and speech problems. The aura phase usually lasts 5 to 60 minutes.  


Headache - The most well-known migraine symptom is a severe headache, often described as pulsating pain on one side of the head. It can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. Migraine headaches are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, as well as extreme sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia).


Postdrome - After a migraine attack, people usually feel fatigued, confused, and washed out. Moodiness, weakness, difficulty concentrating, and head pain can linger during this migraine "hangover." Postdrome symptoms may persist for a day or longer after the headache pain goes away.


Getting to know your patterns of migraine symptoms and phases can help you recognize when an attack is starting so you can take early action to minimize pain and disability. Keeping a migraine journal to track symptoms day-to-day can help identify your personal migraine triggers as well.


Getting a Migraine Diagnosis

New York pain management specialist

Getting properly diagnosed is an important first step in finding effective migraine treatment. Migraines can be tricky to diagnose because symptoms vary widely among individuals.


During a clinic visit, your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. It's helpful to keep a record of your headaches, noting frequency, severity, location, triggers, and other symptoms. This helps rule out other possible causes.


Getting a clear migraine diagnosis opens the door to finding the right treatment plan to effectively manage your symptoms. Work with your healthcare provider to explore medication options as well as lifestyle changes to prevent migraines and minimize their impact.


Conclusion

The myths surrounding migraines can prevent people from seeking proper diagnosis and treatment. If you suffer from recurring headaches, don't assume it's just a headache or something you have to live with.


See a New York pain management specialist and get properly diagnosed. Work with them to understand your migraine triggers and find an effective treatment regimen. With the right treatment, most people can gain control over their migraines and significantly improve their quality of life. You don't have to live in pain - take control of your migraines.

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