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Understanding Migraines and Headaches: Don’t Suffer in Silence

Understanding Migraines and Headaches: Don’t Suffer in Silence

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, a time to focus on the myriad headache disorders that afflict millions worldwide. This observance underscores the profound impact of severe headache disorders, such as migraines, cluster headaches, and tension-type headaches, on individuals’ lives.

The Impact of Migraines and Headaches

Migraines are more than just a typical headache. They are an intense, often chronic condition characterized by symptoms such as severe throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. According to the American Migraine Foundation, migraine is the third most prevalent illness globally and impacts one in every four households in the U.S.

Even if you are not personally affected, someone close to you likely suffers from this unseen condition. Migraine can interfere with every facet of life, from personal relationships and career pursuits to mental well-being.

Headaches are common. Almost everyone experiences one from time to time. If headaches occur frequently, they may indicate a headache disorder. The most prevalent type of headache disorder is tension headache.

In developed nations, this condition impacts more than one-third of men and more than half of women. What is less acknowledged is the significant burden of headache disorders that involve persistent headaches: approximately one in every twenty adults suffers from a headache daily or almost daily.

Headache and Migraine Symptoms and Diagnosis

Migraine symptoms can include:

  • Severe throbbing or pulsing pain, often on one side of the head
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, and sometimes smells and touch
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Visual disturbances or aura

Headache symptoms can vary widely but often include:

  • Persistent or episodic pain in the head
  • Pressure or tightness across the forehead or back of the head and neck
  • Pain that worsens with routine physical activity

What Causes Migraines and Headaches?

The exact mechanisms are not fully understood, but migraines and severe headaches involve abnormal brain activity, which causes inflammation and changes the brain’s blood vessel system and chemicals.

  • Stress
  • Stress is often cited as one of the most common triggers for migraine headaches. When stressed, the body releases certain hormones, such as cortisol, which can provoke migraine. The end of a stressful period, sometimes called “let-down stress,” can also trigger migraines as the body’s hormone levels adjust.
  • Hormonal Changes
  • Many women experience migraines linked to hormonal fluctuations. For example, migraines can occur due to changing hormone levels during a woman’s menstrual cycle, particularly just before or during their periods, which is often due to a drop in estrogen levels. Menopause and pregnancy can also alter migraine patterns.
  • Bright Lights or Loud Sounds
  • Sensory stimuli like bright, flickering lights or intense, loud sounds can induce migraines in some individuals. This sensitivity might stem from heightened sensory processing in migraine sufferers, making them more reactive to environmental stimuli that others might find tolerable.
  • Weather Changes
  • Changes in weather and barometric pressure can trigger migraines in some people. For instance, a barometric pressure drop often precedes rain, which can trigger a headache. Similarly, extreme changes in temperature or high humidity can also be triggers.
  • Sleep
  • Too little and too much sleep can be triggers for migraines. Sleep disturbances can upset the body’s natural rhythms and cause chemical imbalances in the brain that may lead to a migraine. Regular, quality sleep is often recommended as part of managing migraines.
  • Certain Foods and Beverages
  • Some foods and beverages are known to be potential migraine triggers. These can vary widely among individuals but commonly include aged cheeses, processed foods, red wine, and foods containing tyramine, a naturally occurring compound that can influence blood pressure. Other items like chocolate, caffeine, and aspartame are also reported triggers for some.

Understanding personal migraine triggers can involve tracking symptoms and exposures in a headache diary to identify patterns and potential causes, which can be critical in managing and preventing migraine attacks.


Proper diagnosis involves a thorough medical history and often necessitates ruling out other causes.

Treatment and Management

Treatment for migraines and headaches can vary significantly based on the type and frequency of the headache. Common approaches include:

  • Medications, ranging from over-the-counter options to prescription drugs
  • Lifestyle changes, including diet modifications, regular physical activity, and stress management
  • Preventative measures such as avoiding known triggers

A comprehensive approach that includes neurologists, pain specialists, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals may be necessary for chronic sufferers.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month is a crucial reminder of the importance of understanding and addressing these complex disorders. By learning more about migraines and headaches, we can all contribute to a future where these conditions are better understood and managed.

If you or a loved one experience frequent or severe headaches or migraine symptoms, speak with your doctor or neurologist. You can also visit Colorado Mountain Medical’s urgent care for migraines.

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