What do Janet Jackson, Serena Williams, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scottie Pippen and Whoopi Goldberg have in common? They are among the 36 million Americans who suffer from migraines. Characterized by a throbbing pain in one side of the head; extreme sensitivity to light, touch and sound; dizziness; visual disturbances; and nausea and vomiting, migraines are more than just bad headaches.
Though every sufferer is different, some early warning signs begin days before a migraine hits, and other symptoms, like nausea and vomiting, occur with the migraine pain. Key to understanding your migraine is being aware of your environment and learning your triggers.
Common warning signs:
Yawning. Though you may not recognize this as a symptom, a day or two before your migraine hits, you might find yourself yawning more than usual. This early warning sign gives you time to start a treatment plan. Other early signs could include fatigue, fluid retention, food cravings and thirst.
Aura. These vision effects (seeing spots or stars and blurred or tunnel vision) begin 30 minutes to an hour before the migraine pain and then go away completely just before the headache hits. For women (three of four migraine sufferers are women), there’s another important reason to be aware of aura—premenopausal women who experience aura before migraine are at increased risk for stroke. Doctors advise women who experience auras with migraines not to smoke or take birth control pills.
Nausea. This is a staple for migraine sufferers. In fact, if you have a headache without nausea, it’s not a migraine.
Pain on one side of your head. Tension and other headaches tend to cause your head to ache all over. Greater pain on one side of your head is a sign you’re experiencing a migraine and not another type of headache. Migraine pain generally gets worse with physical activity, and it can be hard to carry out daily activities.
Extreme sensitivity to light or sound. People who have migraines often complain that their headache pain is accompanied by acute sensitivity to noise or light. Some sufferers also complain of being sensitive to touch. This may be because people who have migraines have an overactive brain stem, the area of the brain that determines whether stimuli in the environment are painful.
Tingling on parts of your face. This may occur as part of an aura or during the migraine pain.
Blurry vision. This can occur as part of the aura stage or with the migraine pain itself. Changes in vision are thought to be due to changing blood flow in your brain.
Once you are aware of these warning signs, you’ll be better able to determine when to seek treatment and hopefully limit the amount of pain.