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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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    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi MME, So you are allergic to sulfur too. At least hot baths and a dark room work for you. I hope you don't get migraines too often.

    • greeneryday profile image

      greeneryday 5 years ago from Some tropical country

      Never thought of eating certain foods can cause migraine, thank you for writing this up very informative hub, bookmarked and voted up for useful

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Washington

      Hi Rhonda--I used to have horrific ones but only 2 things caused mine--hormones around cycles and then finally my worst ever--it was the fact that I needed glasses. The triggers are common though for most folks. (P.S. I think the word you want for a trigger is nitrites--in foods and wines, right? Nitrates are for chest pain--I only know this because I work in medical transcription~~) Great piece though!

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      well presented and well researched hub. i always experienced migraines due to stress and other problems .

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Bill, it is good to know you don't get migraines.I write about a lot of topics that have nothing to do with me personally, but migraines do affect me. I get about 3 a month, and it can really interfere with my very energetic self. Luckily, I don't get auras, and I am always vigilant about managing them, so I do the best I can with them. My father got migraines, and I lost him when I was 14, so even though they cause me pain, it actually helps me connect to him. In everything, you can find the bad and the good.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Yes migraines are a real pain if you don't mind the expression! lol! I do tend to get them with the wrong bedding, especially those pillows that just don't give, great information and voted up! nell

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 5 years ago

      I occasionally will get a Headache, Lover Man had "Migraines" years ago, I personally think it was his JOB! Now retired, he never gets them. Great Hub, Toknowinfo, such an Educational read. Some of the things we Love, like Chocolate (I heard) can also cause them. Thanks for sharing.

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      My Minds Eye53 5 years ago from Tennessee

      Oh I agree with the sleeping wrong. If my neck isn't positioned just right I pay for it. They gave me a syringe of something to carry around with me for migraines, but it turned out it had sulfa in it and even though it was a very small amount I broke out in hives. Calming myself in a dark room or hot bath usually helps with mine.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Amillar, I am glad this hub was helpful to you. Be extra kind to your wife when she has the migraine, and of course try to behave yourself so you don't bring one on. (lol). Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi MME, migraines are so terrible to deal with. I really appreciate you sharing your story. It doesn't take much to make a migraine worse, let alone a back injury. Sometimes I get my migraine, just because I sleep wrong. Take care of yourself and try to relax where you can.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi giri, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope this helped you understand what your wife is dealing with.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi tlm, I am so sorry you suffer as you do with migraines. I appreciate you sharing. I hope in time better treatment comes about so you will have more relief.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 5 years ago

      Hi Vocal, It is always good to see you. Thanks for sharing my hub. I am glad I taught you something new about migraines.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have never had one and thank God for small favors. I have seen people completely incapacitated by them, and I feel so bad for them. You did a great job of informing about migraines in this hub! A great resource for those in need of information.

    • amillar profile image

      amillar 5 years ago from Scotland, UK

      My wife gets very bad migraines. Thanks for the info; I've bookmarked it for future reference.

    • My Minds Eye53 profile image

      My Minds Eye53 5 years ago from Tennessee

      I have had migraines for as long as I can remember. I have had them so bad they made me cry. I have had them last for days. I have discovered it helps me to stay calm. If I panic it makes it far worse. To add to it, since I had my car accident and injured some of the discs in my neck, I get migraine like headaches in the back of my skull now and when I have that and a classic migraine (I get the auras) at the same time, it is horrible. Exedrine for migraines helps me with mine, I don't know why, it just does. I will wake up quite often with a migraine. I see them now as a fact of life.

      Voted up

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 5 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      Migraine is very common in women, my wife also suffers from migraine, useful tips, thank you so much.

    • tlmcgaa70 profile image

      tlmcgaa70 5 years ago from south dakota, usa

      i have been suffering migraines since i was a child. constipation can bring on migraines as well. also, there is a pain free migraine. i told my eye doctor that i was seeing a bright light that started at the top of my vision and slid down to the bottom along the sdge. after checking to make sure it was not retinal detachment, he told me it was an opth...shoot cant remember what he called it but it was a type of migraine that is not painful. i was amazed. i was taking maxalt for my migraines then it got changed to zomig. it is the only thing that gets rid of my migraines. sadly i am given only 6 pills a month. they are afraid if i take more i will cause the mograines i guess. but since i only take them when i have to i disagree with that. otc meds like excedrin help my normal headaches, but not my migraines. and zomig wont work on a headache if it isnt a migraine. so i always make sure it is a migraine before i take one so i dont waste them. great hub, very informative. voted up and then some and shared.

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      This is an informative and well-written hub on migrains. I was surprised to learn that nitrates can cause migraines. Another good reason for not eating processed foods.

      Voted up, across and will share as well.