Headaches and Migraines: Vision, Vertigo, and Dizziness
The symptoms and discomfort from migraines can go far beyond excruciating head pain. Many people who get headaches, especially those who get migraines, also experience vision problems, dizziness, and vertigo.
What Causes Migraines?
There are more than 20 million people in the U.S. who get migraines. Despite their common occurrence, experts still don't know what causes some people to experience these often debilitating headaches.
Scientists once thought migraine headaches resulted from the constriction of arteries in certain parts of the brain. Experts now believe that migraines may be caused by problems in the nervous system. The problems ultimately lead to swelling of blood vessels on the brain surface, which may lead to migraines.
Changing levels of some hormones, especially estrogen, may also be related to the development of migraines. That may explain why more women than men experience these headaches. Changes in the amount of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain have also been implicated. Blood vessels can swell when levels of serotonin fall.
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Migraines and Vision Problems
Roughly 20% of migraine headaches are preceded by an aura. The aura often includes visual symptoms. Vision problems usually appear 20 minutes to one hour before the headache starts. They may include blind spots or the appearance of flashing lights, spots of light, or wavy lines in the field of vision.
Migraines without aura -- the most common type of migraine -- do not produce aura symptoms to warn of their onset. They can, though, still cause vision problems and dizziness.
The International Headache Society also recognizes a type of migraine known as retinal migraine. This type of migraine produces a variety of visual symptoms. People with retinal migraines may suffer from blindness in one eye before and during the headache. Other serious conditions, such as optic nerve problems or a tear in the arteries that supply blood to the brain, may cause one-sided blindness. Therefore, it's important to consult a health care professional immediately to rule out other causes. Fortunately, the blindness or visual deficits caused by retinal migraine resolve completely when attacks subside.
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Migraines, Vertigo, and Dizziness
Migraines are one of the leading causes of dizziness. More than 25% of the 20 million people in the U.S. who suffer from migraines experience this uncomfortable symptom. The dizziness caused by migraines may include feelings of lightheadedness or unsteadiness as well as true vertigo. Vertigo makes you feel as if the room is spinning.
Even though spinning sensations may appear to be vision problems, they're actually related to your inner ear. In fact, some people who experience migrainous vertigo also experience other ear and hearing problems. That includes sound sensitivity and ringing in the ears.
Dizziness and vertigo are more common in people who have migraines with aura, including vision problems, than in those who have headaches without aura. One particular type of migraine -- basilar migraine -- is the most likely to cause vertigo. It's also likely to cause ringing in the ears, hearing loss, and coordination difficulties.
Some people who experience migraine-related vertigo don't develop this symptom until several years after their migraine episodes begin. The headache-induced dizziness may precede or occur at the same time as the headache. In some instances, the symptoms of dizziness and vertigo develop in the absence of headache. The dizziness symptoms may last anywhere from a few seconds to days.
It can be difficult for a doctor to make a diagnosis of vertigo caused by migraine. That's because people who have these headaches often have other conditions that may cause dizziness. This can include anxiety, depression, and positional low blood pressure.
Treatment for a Migraine's Vision, Vertigo, and Dizziness Symptoms
The vision symptoms and dizziness caused by migraines are scary and troubling. But they usually improve significantly or even disappear with medical treatment.
There are a variety of options for addressing migraines and their related symptoms. They include lifestyle changes, medications, physical therapy, and complementary therapies.
· Lifestyle changes. Many people can reduce or eliminate their headache-induced vision problems and vertigo by making changes in their lifestyle. One step that may help is to avoid trigger foods. Foods known to cause migraines in some people include chocolate, peanuts, and red wine. Stopping smoking, reducing stress levels, and getting regular exercise may also help reduce the occurrence of migraines and related vision problems.
· Medications. There are no surefire migraine medications that will work for everyone who gets migraines. There are, though, a variety of options that may be used alone or in combination to relieve headaches and the associated vision problems, dizziness, and vertigo they can cause. Therapies may include:
o Preventive drugs. These medications, including the antiseizure medication topiramate and the antidepressant amitriptyline, can help block migraines before they start.
o Abortive medications. These drugs, referred to as triptans, such as sumatriptan and rizatriptan, are used to stop migraines quickly before they become full-blown.
o Symptom relievers. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs -- both prescribed and over-the-counter -- may alleviate headache and lessen related symptoms.
· Complementary therapies. Biofeedback and acupuncture may reduce migraine-causing stress levels and help eliminate headache symptoms, including pain, vision problems, dizziness, and vertigo.