Lifestyle

Migraines & What They May Reveal About a Woman's Health

7 min read

Key Points

  • Around 37% of women in the U.S suffer from migraine.
  • Those over 50 years of age may experience aura symptoms without headaches more frequently
  • Migraine with aura is common among women. They experience headache and aura symptoms, Including visual disturbance, tingling, and numbness. 
  • Genes may play a role as a person with a family history is more vulnerable to migraine than those who do not. 

Migraine is a chronic headache that comes and goes throughout life. According to this study, it affects about 15% to 18% of the adult population, mainly women. Around 37% of women in the U.S suffer from migraine. Migraine with aura is a headache accompanied by some transient neurological symptoms that affect about 25 to 30% of people with migraines as stated by the American Migraine Foundation.

 

What is a migraine with aura?

Migraine with aura or classic migraine is a headache with some sensory disturbances called the aura. Aura symptoms are warning signs because they occur right before or sometimes during headaches. Aura symptoms include seeing sparks, dots, or zigzags, tingling in your hands, and sometimes blurred speech.

 

Symptoms

The migraine symptoms with aura include visual symptoms and other sensory disturbances that last between 30 to 60 minutes before headache. Some people experience aura symptoms without headaches, especially those over 50 years.

Visual symptoms:

  • Blind spots
  • Foggy vision
  • Zigzag lines
  • Flashes of light
  • Changes in vision or temporary vision loss
  • Shimmering spots

Other sensory disturbances:

  • Numbness or tingling in one side of the face or hand that may spread to your limb
  • Muscle weakness that makes you unable to move your hands or legs smoothly
  • Blurred speech or inability to speak in a clear way

Summary:

 Migraine with aura is common among women. They experience headache and aura symptoms, Including visual disturbance, tingling, and numbness.

 

Causes

There is no apparent reason for migraine with aura. However, many hypotheses explain the process. Additionally, causes of migraine could be possible reasons for migraine with aura.

High brain potassium levels

 

A study published in the journal of headache and face pain suggested that high brain potassium levels cause constriction of brain arterioles leading to migraine with aura. When potassium outside brain cortical cells reaches 20 mm, neurons release more potassium distributed preferentially toward the blood vessels in the area. Thus, causing vasoconstriction that reduces blood supply and removal of potassium in the blood, so regulation of potassium is impaired. The higher the potassium levels, the more intense vasoconstriction leads to migraine with aura.

 

Abnormal brain changes and genetics

The Office of Women’s Health mentioned that migraine occurs when some abnormal brain changes result in inflammation. Then inflammation causes swelling of brain blood vessels that pressure some nerves causing a headache.

Moreover, genes may play a role as a person with a family history is more vulnerable to migraine than those who do not.

 

Hormonal changes

Estrogen fluctuation plays a critical role in having migraine. When estrogen levels drop, migraine headache occurs. For instance, before menstruation, women are more likely to have migraine due to the drop in estrogen. Furthermore, in pregnancy, women experience improvement in migraine attacks due to high estrogen levels. However, they may suffer from the attacks again postpartum. While pre-menopause, the headaches may become frequent due to the rise and fall in hormones levels until menopause when most women experience improvement and fewer migraine attacks.

 

Underlying health condition

Some medical health conditions, especially in people over 50, may cause migraine with or without aura, for instance,

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Atherosclerosis

Summary:

 Causes of migraine with aura are still unknown. However, possible causes include high brain potassium levels, hormonal changes, genetics, and underlying health conditions.

 

Triggers of migraine with aura

Triggers are factors that may cause more frequent migraine with aura attacks, including:

  • Caffeine
  • Stress
  • Dehydration
  • Alcohol
  • Sleep changes
  • Diet changes
  • Weather changes
  • Exposure to bright light
  • Certain medications or foods
  • Skipping meals

Complications of migraine with aura

  • Stroke: Stroke is a possible complication in people who have migraine with aura
  • Cardiovascular death: According to this research, women who suffer from migraine with aura are at high risk of cardiovascular death.

Hormonal contraceptives and migraine with aura

A study published in Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology mentioned that women with migraines aura who use combined estrogen-progesterone contraceptives are at high risk of ischemic stroke. That is why The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the World Health Organization set some conditions for women with migraines who would use hormonal contraceptives, including:

  • Women who do not experience aura
  • Women who do not smoke and are healthy
  • Women whose age are under 35 years

However, the International Headache Society Task Force stated that women with migraines aura could use hormonal contraceptives under doctor supervision. It differs between someone to another.

 

Summary:

Triggers of migraine with aura are caffeine, alcohol, stress, and sleep disturbances. Women who suffer migraine with aura are at high risk of stroke and cardiovascular death. There are conflicting opinions regarding using hormonal contraceptives for women with migraine aura so consult your doctor.

 

Diagnosis

The diagnosis depends on your signs, family and medical history, and physical examination. Moreover, the doctor would recommend some tests if you have aura without headache to rule out other health conditions. Examples of such tests:

  • Eye examination
  • Head computerized tomography scan (C.T)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (M.R.I)

Treatment

Treatment depends on relieving the pain by some medications. Take medicine when you feel the first sign of the attack. However, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, ask your doctor before going for these medications, as some of them may be contraindicated. Medications that are used include:

  • Pain relievers: This includes prescription or over the counter pain relievers such as aspirin
  • Triptans: It is available as nasal spray, shots, or pills. However, it may not be safe for those at risk of a heart attack.
  • Lasmiditan (Reyvow): This drug is used in treating migraines. However, it may cause dizziness due to its sedative effect, so avoid driving for at least eight hours after taking it.
  • Dihydroergotamine (D.H.E. 45, Migranal) is available as nasal spray or injection. It is not recommended for people with high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, kidney or liver disease.
  • Opioid medications are only used if other medications do not work or you cannot take them. They are highly addictive.
  • Anti-nausea drugs: You can use them in case of experiencing nausea or vomiting during a migraine aura attack.

Prevention

Some medications achieve the prevention of migraine with aura and lifestyle changes.

Preventive medications

  • Blood pressure-lowering drugs: They help relieve vasoconstriction, thus preventing migraines
  • Antidepressants: They prevent migraines due to their side effects, for instance, sleepiness.
  • Anti-seizure drugs: They help reduce the frequency of migraines; however, they are not recommended for pregnant women or those who seek pregnancy.
  • Botox injections: Getting a Botox injection every 12 weeks might help with some cases.
  • CGRP monoclonal antibodies: They are new drugs for migraine treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration. For instance, Erenumab-aooe (Aimovig) and eptinezumab-jjmr (Vyepti)

Lifestyle changes

Some minor changes in your life can minimize the frequency of migraine with aura, for instance,

  • Avoid the triggers
  • Try relaxation techniques such as meditation or hypnosis. Also, daily exercising can help in improving your mood.
  • Follow healthy meal plans
  • Stay away from sleeping disruption. Have around 8 hours of sleep every day.
  • Take some nutritional supplements such as riboflavin, magnesium, and CoQ10, but you should first consult a physician.

 

** These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

**Prescription drugs noted in this article are provided by research and are in no way associated with M.O.O. 

 

 

References:

  1. (Young & Vliet, 1992)
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1555928/
  2. (Edlow & Bartz, 2010)
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938905/
  3. (Rohmann et al., 2020) https://thejournalofheadacheandpain.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s10194-020-01091-9#citeas
  4. “Understanding Migraine with Aura.” American Migraine Foundation, https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/understanding-migraine-aura/
  5. “Migraine.” Office On Women’s Health, U.S Department of Health & Human Services, 1 April 2019, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/migraine
  6. “Spotlight On: Migraine in Women.” American Migraine Foundation, https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/migraine-women/
  7. Fletcher, Jenna. “What causes a sudden increase in migraine with aura?” Medical news today, 17 February 2021, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sudden-increase-in-migraine-with-aura
  8. “Migraine Aura.” Cleveland Clinic, 25 November 2021, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22131-migraine-aura “Migraine with aura.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-with-aura/symptoms-causes/syc-20352072

 

 

 

 

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