What I've Learned About Migraines

If you haven't already read about my Worst. Headache. Ever. then click that link to get caught up!

Migraines are crazy things and after this last one, I've learned a ton about them, probably things that I should have learned a long time ago.  A lot of my symptoms would have made more sense.  If you also suffer from migraines, I hope that you find this information helpful!

Migraines are caused by enlargement of the blood vessels in the brain (source) and affect the sympathetic nervous system.  It's not always totally clear what triggers this and it can be different things for different people, such as allergies, changes in sleep, stress, and hormones.

Here were symptoms that I have experienced or that I "self-diagnosed" as being migraine symptoms whether or not I knew if they were:
  1. Loss of peripheral vision and "flashes" in my vision that usually looked like glowing black spots (imagine an eclipsed sun.) 
  2. Loss of appetite and the feeling that my digestive processes were literally halted for both food and liquids, which often led to indigestion
  3. Nausea and dizziness
  4. Sensitivity to light and sound
  5. Total disgust at the thought of drinking water; craving something sweeter or thicker for beverages
  6. Total disgust at the thought of coffee, particularly the bitterness that I associate with the coffee at work

And here's what I've learned to be true! (with source links in parentheses).

So, the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for our responses to stress and pain.  (source) But the sympathetic nervous system also slows down the process of moving food from the stomach to the intestines, resulting in nausea and that feeling that I described in number 2 above where it felt like my body had stopped processing.  It actually HAD stopped! (Or at least slowed down.)

Numbness - or that "pins and needles" feeling - in one's limbs is actually a fairly common symptom of severe migraines.  (source)  I had never actually experienced this symptom before, and I didn't know that it was a possibility so when I started going numb, I thought that it was something far worse than just a migraine symptom.   No so.  Although if that becomes a regular symptom I'm going to need to start seeking alternative treatments. 

The pins and needles feeling as well as the "flashes" of light or blackness in my vision are called "auras."  (source)  Most people get migraines without the auras.  But those with more severe migraines (like me - woo hoo!) will experience the auras.  Previously, my auras only included the flashes.

Caffeine is often used to treat migraines - it gets your blood pumping faster and helps with circulation.  Too bad I gag at the mere thought of coffee when I have one....

Craving sweets is also a symptom.  Hallelujah!!! Finally an explanation for why I felt the need to eat THREE large pieces of cake on the evening of my migraine... Seriously - THREE pieces of cake!  Two of them being from this cake....

Almond torte from some bakery in Shadyside. Seriously, the best cake ever. 

There is a ton of information out there on migraines, and it's really not worth me posting it all here.  But if you suffer from headaches and you haven't read much about them, I highly recommend it.  If you're anything like me, you'll feel stupid in the beginning but highly enlightened at the end, with a sense of finally learning something about this condition that you have that really has no for-sure cure as of yet.  Until they come up with one, I'm going to keep the butt-shot doctor at the Urgent Care center on my speed dial. 


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