Migraines can be debilitating and interfere greatly with a person’s quality of life. When migraines occur frequently, such as 15 or more days per month, they are considered chronic. Understanding what causes chronic migraines and how to treat them effectively is important for managing this condition.
Understanding Chronic Migraine
A migraine is a headache often described as an intense pulsing or throbbing pain on one side of the head. Migraine attacks can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. Typical symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Chronic migraine is when a person experiences migraines at least 15 days per month for more than 3 months.
Chronic migraines tend to be more severe than episodic migraines and have a greater impact on a person’s quality of life. The constant head pain makes it difficult to carry out normal daily activities. Effective treatment is essential for reducing the frequency and severity of attacks.
What Are The Causes Of Chronic Migraines?
The exact mechanisms that cause chronic migraines are still being researched. However, some factors believed to contribute include:
- Genetics – Chronic migraines often run in families. A number of genetic mutations have been associated with migraines.
- Brain chemistry – People with chronic migraines appear to have abnormalities in their brain chemicals and neurotransmitters like serotonin and calcitonin gene-related peptides.
- Neuron excitability – There seems to be increased excitability and firing of neurons involved in migraine pathways in the brain.
- Triggers – Chronic migraine sufferers are sensitive to many triggers like stress, sleep changes, hormones, weather changes, caffeine, and certain foods.
- Medication overuse – Frequent use of migraine abortive medications can increase migraine frequency. This is known as medication overuse headache.
- Other medical conditions – Conditions like depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and obesity are associated with higher rates of chronic migraine.
How To Cure Chronic Migraine?
There is no “cure” for chronic migraines, but the goal of treatment is to reduce migraine frequency, duration, and intensity. Preventive therapy and avoiding triggers are key. Treatment strategies may include:
- Preventive Medications – Medications like topiramate, propranolol, amitriptyline, and Botox injections are often prescribed to be taken regularly to reduce migraine frequency.
- Abortive Medications – Medications like sumatriptan, rizatriptan, and ergotamine can be used to stop migraine attacks after they start. Use should be limited to avoid medication overuse headaches.
- Alternative Therapies – Relaxation techniques, acupuncture, cognitive behavioral therapy, and supplements like magnesium, riboflavin, and coenzyme Q10 may help prevent migraines.
- Avoid Triggers – Keeping a migraine diary can help identify triggers to avoid like certain foods, lack of sleep, stress, and hormonal changes.
- Stay Hydrated – Dehydration can trigger migraines, so drink plenty of water daily. Limit caffeine and alcohol which can cause dehydration.
- Get Adequate Sleep – Lack of quality sleep can trigger migraines. Maintain a regular sleep routine and deal with any sleep disorders.
- Exercise Regularly – Regular cardiovascular exercise seems to reduce migraine frequency and severity for some people.
- Reduce Stress – Finding healthy ways to manage stress through yoga, meditation, massage, or counseling may help control chronic migraines.
Chronic migraines are severely debilitating and greatly reduce the quality of life for sufferers. Identifying and avoiding potential triggers can help reduce migraine attacks. Preventive medications, abortive medications, alternative therapies, lifestyle changes, and trigger management are key to successfully controlling chronic migraines. Working closely with your doctor to find the right treatment plan for you is crucial in minimizing the impact of chronic migraines.
A: Migraines differ from regular headaches because they are a neurological disorder that causes severe throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head. Other migraine symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light/sound, and aura.
A: Chronic migraines are diagnosed by a physician based on a thorough headache history, tracking migraine frequency, ruling out secondary causes, and features of the headache attacks themselves. A headache diary is usually kept to record attack details.
A: Common food triggers include aged cheeses, processed meats, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, MSG, and foods high in nitrates. Keeping a food diary can help identify dietary migraine triggers.
A: Yes, stress and emotional turmoil are prevalent migraine triggers. Learning to manage stress through meditation, counseling, or other techniques can help reduce migraines.
A: Major risk factors include family history, depression or anxiety, head injury, women (hormones), sleep disturbances, and overuse of migraine medications. Obesity, smoking, and lower socioeconomic status have also been associated with higher rates of chronic migraines.