The symptoms of a migraine are bad enough on their ownÃ¢â‚¬”but scientists say having serious headaches may leave a lasting mark on your gray matter, too.
According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who have migraines are twice as likely as non-sufferers to show structural brain changes, or lesions, due to insufficient blood flow to particular parts of the brain.
For starters, women are three times as likely as men to experience migraines, which in part is due to femalesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ fluctuating estrogen levels, says David W. Dodick, M.D., a professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic and president-elect of the American Headache Society. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Estrogen can have a profound effect on the brain, especially brain areas that process the symptoms of a migraine attack,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. And although men and young women can experience migraine attacks, too, the prevalence is much higher for women between the ages of 18 and 55 due to menstruation, pregnancy, lactation, and menopauseÃ¢â‚¬”all estrogen-altering cycles, he explains.
The migraine-induced lesions, which look like small white dots on an MRI scan, result in part due to the way the brain receives blood from the body, Dodick explains. Ã¢â‚¬Å“As you go deeper and deeper into the brain, the blood vessels branch off smaller and smaller,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And if you have a lowering of blood flowÃ¢â‚¬”which is the case during a migraine attackÃ¢â‚¬”the deepest parts of the brain may not be able to get the blood it needs, which can damage that tissue.Ã¢â‚¬Â Luckily, while freaky, these lesions donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem to effect long-term cognitive function or memory.
Want to alleviate your own migraine-related maladies? The first step is to recognize that the problem is more than just head pain. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Migraines are a brain disorder, not a headache disorder,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dodick says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“A headache is just one symptom, just as sensitivity to light, difficultly concentrating, dizziness, and nausea are also migraine symptomsÃ¢â‚¬Â Try these tricks for preventing and alleviating some of your side effects:
Track your Triggers If you keep a journal, you may be able to pinpoint what causes an attack, and then learn how to avoid those behaviors. Anything that upsets the equilibrium in your bodyÃ¢â‚¬”whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lack of sleep, ingesting certain foods or beverages, or taking specific medicationsÃ¢â‚¬”can trigger a migraine, says Dodick.
Pop a Painkiller Treat the pain as early as possible and donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wait for the ache to worsen before you take medicine, Dodick advises. The less frequently you are using painkillers, the higher the dosage you can take, he says. You can safely consume 400mg to 800mg of ibuprofen or Excedrin (acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine), which is two to four tablets, according to Dodick. If the pain doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t lessen after four tablets, talk to your doctor.
Try Biofeedback As a non-drug alternative, practicing relaxation therapy techniques works as a good preventative measure for managing migraines, Dodick says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Biofeedback is a way for an individual to control the level of excitation and body temperate through meditation and other practices,Ã¢â‚¬Â he says. By better managing the physiological processes of the body, you can lessen the migraine side effects and reduce the rate of attack.
Add Supplements Many supplements such as magnesium, riboflavin, coenzyme Q10 and butterbur (a plant extract) have been proven to reduce the frequency of attack, says Dodick. Natural remedies arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t regulated like prescription medication, though, so check with your doctor before stocking your cabinets with any new over-the-counter options.
Move Your Body For some patients, excess training can trigger a migraine, says Dodick, but for many, a good workout can keep the ache away. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Regular exercise has been shown as an effective way to prevent migraine,Ã¢â‚¬Â Dodick says. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And if you can manage other risk factors like anxiety as well as keeping your weight down, you can reduce the duration of your systems and the frequency of your attacks.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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Sneaky Headache Triggers to Avoid
How to Treat Head Pain
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