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What Are Migraines

Updated on March 29, 2013


More migraines affect women than men.
More migraines affect women than men. | Source

Migraines Are Very Common

Migraines affect more than 28 million Americans. Migraine headaches are more prominent among women than men. A migraine is an extremely painful headache involving pain that pulsates in your head and causes excruciating discomfort and debilitating effects for the person suffering from it.

Migraines can be accompanied by nausea, severe pounding in the head, and a strong sensitivity to light and noise. It used to be thought that the headaches and discomfort associated with vascular problems in the brain.

Recent studies are showing that migraines may be more of a neurological problem that is related to waves of activity in the nerve cells that go across the brain. It may be a malfunction in the brain stem. The more medical science learns about migraines, the closer they will get to developing new and effective treatments for this disorder.


Migraines can be debilitating.
Migraines can be debilitating. | Source

Four Stages of a Migraine

A migraine headache has 4 stages to it, but not everyone who gets migraines suffers from all 4 stages. .

  • Prodrome phase - 60% of people experience this - people will have sensitivity to noise and light, have difficulty concentrating, yawn, and feel fatigued, and mood changes, and muscle tension. Some people get a funny taste in their mouth, or an unusual smell. These are often viewed as warnings prior to the onset of the migraine.
  • Aura - 30% of people report having these symptoms which include visual experiences of seeing sparks and colorful lights which then bring on blinding or dark spots called scotomas in the same shape as the sparks and lights. Some people lose vision on 1 side called hemianopsia. Auras usually last 20 minutes to 1 hour.
  • Headache - reported by everyone - person has extreme pain with noise (phonophobia) and light sensitivity (photophobia). They may feel bouts of nausea and may vomit. Migraines may affect only part of their head. About 30 to 40% or sufferers get the headache on both sides of their head.
  • Postdrome - 70% of people report experiencing a continued sensitivity to light. They will feel lethargic, tired, and have difficulty with movement and on focusing which may persist after the headache has gone away.

Migraines Are Severe Headaches

Prevention and treatment of migraines has not proven to be very effective. As science learns more, they can tailor the drugs to target the disorder more specifically, and with fewer side effects. Because migraine treatment has been so inadequate, many people do not even seek medical treatment for their discomfort.

Researchers are now looking to identify gene mutations that may be the cause for inheritable reasons that a person may have migraines.

More women get migraines than men. 25% of these women have 4 or more migraines a month. Over ⅓ experience anywhere from 1 to 4 severe attacks per month. Migraines can last from a few hours to several days.

Triggers of Migraines

Science doesn’t quite understand the reason migraines come about. They do know that they affect changes in the brain. Genetics also may play a role in these types of headaches. Weather changes, bright lights, being tired and other reasons may trigger the onset of these headaches.

It used to be thought that the blood vessels in the brain were constricting and expanding. now it is believed to be associated with some brain abnormalities. Within the brain, there are pain centers, and when hyperactive neuron cells start sending out impulses to the vascular system in the brain, they may become constricted. Then the blood vessels start to dilate or expand and different chemicals in the brain begin to be released, which cause a painful pulsating action in your head.

There are many triggers of migraines including emotional stress. When a stressful situation occurs, chemicals are released in the brain as part of the fight or flight response. These chemicals cause the vascular changes previously discussed to occur. Anxiety, excitement, fatigue, and worry can cause muscle tension, and expanded blood vessels and exacerbate the problem.

Food and the chemicals and preservatives used in food preparation can also cause migraines. These include:

  • aged cheese
  • alcohol
  • allergies
  • nitrates (a food additive)
  • MSG - monosodium glutamte
  • Aspartame
  • Caffeine
  • perfumes and certain odors
  • weather chnges
  • menstrual cycle
  • extreme tiredness
  • emotional or physical stress
  • disruption of normal sleeping patterns
  • skipping meals

MSG has been implicated as a trigger in as many as 30% of migraines.

Some people with certain medical conditions may be more predisposed to migraines:

  • high blood pressure
  • asthma
  • stroke
  • Raynaud’s
  • disorders related to sleep
  • chronic fatigue syndrome

Medication and Migraines

There are constantly new medications emerging to treat migraines.
There are constantly new medications emerging to treat migraines. | Source

Migraines and Medication

There is a strong correlation between migraines and genetic factors. 80% of migraine sufferers have a family history of a relative also having migraines. A child has a 50% chance of getting migraines if one parent has it also. When both parents ha

In addition to nausea and light sensitivity, other symptoms include, loss of appetite, feelings of being warm or cold, dizziness, paleness, sensitivity to odors, abdominal upsets and pain, blurred vision, diarrhea, and on occasion, a fever.

Migraines are usually divided by whether or not they are accompanied by auras. Migraines ith auras are known as classic migraines. Migraines without auras are known as common migraines. The aura usually pre signals an impending migraine. Auras can affect the other senses. Sometimes people get an unusual feeling, ringing in their ears, strange changes in their senses of taste, touch, or smell.

Migraines have no cure. It is thought that drinking red wine, and lack of sleep are some of the triggers that can bring on a migraine. Relaxation techniques can help reduce the effects of these headaches.

For some people, over the counter medications may work on the migraine.
Naproxen, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Excedrin and others are the first attempts to get rid of the headache. Some doctors may prescribe serotonin agonists if the headaches don’t respond to over the counter medication. Some antidepressants and SSRIs may also work. There are other prescribed drugs that may work on migraines.

Gluten free diets may also help prevent the onset of headaches.

When it comes to migraines, even holistic medicine may help.


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