How to Know if a Migraine is Something More Serious and When to Seek Care

How to Know if a Migraine is Something More Serious and When to Seek Care

No one likes dealing with a headache. While most of them are nothing more than a nuisance, others can be much more debilitating. Migraines certainly fall into that category.

According to The Migraine Institute, an estimated 35 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches each year. Although they happen more frequently in women, anyone can develop a migraine.

Due to the intense pain, light sensitivity, and nausea that usually accompany a migraine, many people are unable to go about their daily routine.

While a regular migraine is bad enough, severe headaches can also be a sign of something more serious. Understanding when to seek care for a migraine and the signs that it could be a more serious condition could be lifesaving.

Since June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, there is no better time to brush up on your migraine knowledge.

What Symptoms Do Migraines Cause?

Unlike some conditions, the symptoms of a migraine headache aren’t easy to generalize. That’s because everyone that experiences them has slightly different symptoms.

Moreover, symptoms of a migraine often change over time. “Classical” migraine headaches consist of four main stages, which can last for a few hours up to several days. These four stages are prodrome, aura, headache or attack, and postdrome.

During the prodrome stage, most people don’t yet have pain in their head. Instead, things start to feel “off.” Symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Light sensitivity
  • Muscle stiffness / fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping

After the prodrome stage, migraine sufferers enter the aura stage. This happens about five minutes to an hour before intense migraine pain begins. The aura phase may include symptoms like:

  • Bright flashing spots in your vision
  • Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Changes in taste or smell
  • A “funny” feeling
  • Confusion

As the aura phase ends, the worst part of a migraine begins. During the headache, or attack, phase, the main symptom is pain. However, you may experience all or some of the following:

  • Severe head pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Speech changes
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue

The headache phase may last for several hours or multiple days. As the migraine pain starts to recede, the postdrome phase begins. This is characterized by symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of depression
  • Difficulty focusing

What Causes Migraines?

Although researchers don’t know the exact reason why people experience migraines, there are a number of possibilities. For instance, there are significant genetic links between migraine sufferers who have a first-degree relative that also gets migraines. On top of this, high-stress levels are a major risk factor for developing migraines.

As for what brings on a migraine, there are a variety of factors. One of the most common is emotional stress. The flood of chemicals in the brain during these times can cause a migraine or make it worse. Additionally, lack of proper sleep, lack of regular nutritional intake, and lack of adequate fluid intake can also trigger a migraine.

Other people experience migraines after consuming too much (or too little) caffeine. Certain foods that contain lots of additives like nitrates can also trigger a migraine.

For women, migraines may be linked to their menstrual periods. The hormonal changes occurring during this time can be enough to trigger a migraine.

How to Treat a Migraine at Home

For those that only experience occasional migraines, seeking medical care isn’t usually necessary. Although a migraine is never pleasant, most can treat a migraine safely at home.

One of the best ways to do so is to sleep it off. Many people who experience migraines report feeling better after several hours of undisturbed sleep. Be sure to keep your sleeping space cool, dark, and quiet. Although it may be inconvenient to put your life on pause, this is the best way to deal with most migraines.

Meanwhile, over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil / Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help manage the pain.

Signs a Migraine Might Be More Serious

When migraines don’t respond to treatment at home, it may be a sign that something more serious is going on. A migraine emergency requires prompt medical care. Not only will this help your symptoms, doing so can also rule out or catch something more dangerous.

One of the most common signs that a migraine may be serious is when it lasts for more than three days without responding to treatment. Other warning signs and when to know if a migraine is seriuous include:

  • Intense, continuous nausea and vomiting
  • High fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Head pain that is more severe or different than usual
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Intense confusion
  • Prolonged vision changes
  • Weakness/difficulty moving

If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately. They could indicate that your migraine is actually the result of an underlying condition like a brain hemorrhage, brain tumor, or stroke. These are often associated with severe head pain, loss of function, and neurological symptoms. All three conditions are life-threatening emergencies and should be treated as such.

Another concerning cause of severe headaches is meningitis, which is an infection of the lining around the brain. If you have a migraine with a high fever and/or a stiff neck, it could be a sign of meningitis. This life-threatening condition requires immediate care.

Velocity Urgent Care Has Your Back

If you find yourself suffering from migraines, either consistently or occasionally, Velocity Urgent Care is here to help. Our friendly, board-certified providers will discuss your symptoms and perform a physical exam to determine the best treatment.

We can prescribe medications to help manage your migraine symptoms and/or stop them when they are occurring. If your migraine requires follow-up care, we can refer you directly to a primary care provider or specialist.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are taking serious safety precautions to ensure that our locations are as clean as possible. We’ve put strict sterilization protocols into place and are carefully handling patients who may be contagious to ensure that each one of our clinics is safe for those who need urgent medical care or occupational health services.

Velocity Urgent Care offers convenient online registration that helps you limit your contact with others during a visit. You can sign up for an appointment online ahead of time and arrive when it’s time to be seen to skip the waiting room. We even offer text message updates so you can wait in the car (if you prefer) until it’s time for your appointment.

Velocity Urgent Care is an in-network provider for most major insurance plans, meaning you can be seen for the cost of your co-pay and deductible. All of our locations also accept Medicare, Medicaid, and Tricare. Veterans Administration beneficiaries are also welcome. To find out more about our services, locations, hours, and more, visit www.velocityuc.com.