Q: If a person keeps waking up for two weeks at 2:00 am with real bad migraines does that mean they are having a brain aneurysm or do they have a brain tumor?
A: Not necessarily. Migraines are the second most common headaches in the United States and occur 3x more in women than in men. However, just because you have a history of headaches, doesn’t mean that it is a migraine. People with migraines often complain of headaches in one side of the head, but it can be on both sides. It can also feel like a dull headache and become more throbbing when it is severe. You know you probably have migraines if you can relate to a lot of the following:
- Headaches that worsen by either light, sneezing, constant motion, moving the head rapidly, or physical activity.
- Continuous headaches lasting more than four hours to three days.
- Being sensitive to light or noise during headaches.
- Having nausea and vomiting during headaches.
- Symptoms such as vision changes, numbness or tingling in the fingers, lips, or tongue prior to having headaches (also known as aura).
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, we need to talk about why you could be experiencing worsening of your headaches.
Have you been experiencing a constant trigger that could be worsening your migraines?
Migraines are often triggered by stress, not eating, neck pain, smoking, alcohol, high caffeine intake, problems with sleep, etc. If these factors continue to be a part of your life, you can also expect that the migraines will come along for the ride. So, the best thing to do is try to eliminate the triggers that you notice are causing your headaches. Along with that, your doctor can help provide medications that can prevent these episodes from occurring.
Are these headaches similar to your migraine headaches or are you dealing with another type of headache? Have you been using medications and find they don’t help?
Those with migraines can also experience other types of headaches. One in particular is headaches from the overuse of migraine pain relievers. If you have been using migraine pain relievers for an extended period of time, you may be at risk for this. Talk to your doctor because they can help in minimizing your use of pain relievers and place you on medications to prevent it from occurring.
Don’t forget the common headache, also known as tension type headaches. We all have experienced that ache that is usually either along your forehead or along the back of your head.
The last headache type that I want to talk about is called new daily persistent headache (NDPH). It is a relatively new diagnosis very similar to tension type headaches, but is rarer. It is usually on both sides of the head and can be described as tightening or pressing pain. People who experience this type of headache often remember the day that it began. They may awake from sleep with the headache or it could start during the day. Like migraines, you can be sensitive to light and noise. You can also experience mild nausea.
Is it something else?
Having headaches that cause you to awake from sleep can still be migraines; however, if this is a change from your previous symptoms, you must try to find out why it is occurring now. As said before, it may be that your migraines are now becoming chronic or that you are experiencing another type of headache entirely. Lastly, as you have mentioned, brain tumors can cause this as well. But Before you assume that you have brain cancer, talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend imaging of your brain to look for a potential cause or it may just be that you need a change in your migraine medications.