There are indeed two major forms of migraine headaches which, as title says, are referred to as classic and common. The key differences are not in the headaches themselves but in the symptoms that precede them. The onset of a classic migraine is often announced 10 to 30 minutes before the pain starts by the appearance of strange ‘sights’, such as flashing lights or zigzagging lines. The classic migraine sufferer may even become temporarily blind. He may have trouble speaking, become confused, and feel tingling in his hands, and weakness in an arm or leg. A common migraine doesn’t telegraph its arrival as clearly, if at all. But some people who get common migraines report a vague uneasiness that precedes the onset of their headaches. Unfortunately for those who get migraines, the knowledge that one are about to start holds little comfort. Nevertheless a migraine sufferer, armed with this information, can begin taking medicine that may blunt the oncoming attack and so find relief sooner.
The key to migraine prevention is migraine prediction. In other words, past experience can teach you what triggers your migraines. For example, some people can predict they will get an attack if they eat such seemingly innocent foods as chocolate, yoghurt, cheese, nuts or lima beans. Or they may discover that taking oral contraceptives – ‘the pill’ – seems to trigger their attacks. Or perhaps the cause is a deadline at work that is almost always followed by a migraine. Once you know the external cause of your particular migraine, you can start avoiding them; or in the case of stress you can’t avoid, softening their impact by using relaxation techniques.
There are, however, four kinds of treatment for migraines: stress reduction, diet, biofeedback and drug therapy.
Techniques to reduce stress include meditation, yoga, whirlpool baths, enjoyable exercise, listening to soft music – or whatever else that may help you to unwind. There are specialists who can teach you these and similar relaxation techniques.
You could ask your doctor or a specialist in nutrition therapy to tailor an anti-migraine diet for you. Alternatively you may be able to devise your own diet by getting to know which foods promote your migraine and which prevent them.
Biofeedback is both a very ancient and comparatively modern medical tool. It is a method of influencing body processes once thought to be beyond conscious control. It has been practiced in India for many years and was ‘rediscovered’ relatively recently as a medical tool by Western doctors. Researchers have found that migraine sufferers trained to raise mentally the temperature of their hands developed fewer and less severe headaches than they had before they learned the technique. Other patients are taught to reduce muscle tension through biofeedback. Although scientists are not sure why the hand-warming process works, the reduction of muscle is tension – however achieved – is known to reduce the effects of headaches.
Both aspirin and paracetamol are used to treat migraines. Unfortunately, these mild painkillers often don’t help, which leads doctors to prescribe more powerful and specific medications. Drugs such as ergotamine and the beta-blocker propranolol reduce the headache-causing dilatation of the arteries serving the head and brain. Anti-migraine drugs are sometimes used with biofeedback, a combination that seems more effective that the use of either therapy on its own.