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What Makes a Migraine

Updated on December 15, 2010
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When I was a boy my mom used to get really bad migraine headaches.  She would lock herself in her room and not come out all night sometimes.  A few times, the pain was so bad I had to take her to the emergency room to get an injection.  Now that I’m grown up, my girlfriend Jessica also gets frequent migraines.  She will often have to stay home from work or sometimes go to the emergency room as well.  Since two of the most important people in my life are afflicted with these painful headaches, I found myself wanting to know more about migraines in the hopes that I can do something to help.  Both my mom and Jessica have taken prescription medications for their migraines in the past with differing results.  None of the medications end up being a permanent solution.  Often these medications are expensive and come with unwanted side effects, plus I just don’t my loved ones taking more medication, so I want to avoid conventional medicine and stick to homeopathic treatments if possible. 

So what makes a migraine?  What causes them?  Why do some people get them and others don’t?  What can be done to prevent them naturally, without medication?  I have found that there are numerous causes for migraines.  These headaches are well researched, and there are many natural remedies and dietary suggestions for preventing them.  In order for people to stop their migraines they need to analyze their lifestyle and dietary habits that cause them.  In this essay I will explore the causes of migraines and what can be done to prevent them without conventional modern medicines.

First I’d like to clarify exactly what a migraine headache is.  The best definition I found was in an article on MedicalNewsToday.com titled “What is Migraine?  What Causes Migraines?”, which defines a migraine as, “a severe, painful headache that is often preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs such as flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.”  Now that we know what a migraine is, let’s continue exploring what causes them and how they can be prevented.

Migraine headaches are difficult to study scientifically because they deal with pain, which is subjective, and varies from person to person.  Not everyone feels pain equally and there is no real scientific method of properly and consistently measuring the pain of a headache.  Because of this, not all experts agree about exactly what causes a migraine (“Causes & Treatments”).  We do know that the majority of migraine sufferers are women (“Migraine Headache”).  We also know that the cause of the physical pain from a migraine headache is the enlargement of blood vessels just underneath the skin of the head.  The blood vessels enlarge and the nerves surrounding these blood vessels release chemicals which cause pain, inflammation, and further enlargement of the blood vessels (“What is Migraine”).  The pain of a migraine can last for hours or even days. 

Although we know what causes the physical pain of these headaches, the triggers for migraines are numerous and the true underlying cause of is still unknown.  Some people get them from previous head injuries, some only get them at certain times on certain days, and some only when they eat specific foods (“Migraine Headaches”).  The possible triggers for migraines are so numerous, in fact, that they can be split into seven different categories.  An article on Berkely.edu titled “Migraine Triggers” lists the seven categories of migraine triggers as dietary, sleep, hormonal, environmental, stress, stress letdown, and physical.  There are many possible reasons a person will get a migraine and it’s difficult to tell which trigger is setting off a particular person’s headache.  A migraine could be set off by someone skipping a meal; taking a certain medication; changing their sleep pattern; being around bright lights, odors, pollutions, smoke; or being put under mental or physical stress.  Obviously migraines can be set off by a lot of different factors.  So what can we do to prevent them? 

Just as there are numerous amounts of possible triggers for migraines, there are also quite a lot of prevention measures that sufferers can take to avoid getting these painful headaches.  Even better, there are a lot of measures you can take that do not involve taking medication.  First, let’s talk about dietary suggestions to prevent migraines.  Food triggers do not affect everyone equally and some triggers will affect a person only on occasion (“Migraine”).  Some examples of foods known to cause migraines are beverages with chocolate, cocoa, alcohol, and caffeine; fruits like figs, raisins, avocados, papayas, and overripe bananas; vegetables like beans, sauerkraut, green beans, peas, garlic, olives; and the list of foods to avoid goes on and on.  Some migraine sufferers will see an increase in headache frequency after eating these foods.  However, it’s important for each individual to learn which foods trigger the headaches for themselves, since the triggers vary from person to person.  Luckily there are many natural remedies for migraines, such as drinking ground up grapes, grinding lemon rinds into a paste and placing on the forehead, drinking vegetable juices, and applying a cabbage leaf compress to the forehead among others (“Migraine”).  It's clear that the causes of migraine headaches are numerous and vary widely among the people who suffer from them.  So in order to determine the best way to avoid the headaches for themselves, migraine sufferers need to analyze their dietary and lifestyle habits to identify their particular triggers. 

Now that I have found this wealth of information of possible causes and prevention methods for migraines, I plan to talk to Jessica and my mom about their headaches a bit more.  I know both of them know some triggers that cause their migraines; for example, Jessica knows she’ll get migraines if she drinks coffee too much.  However, both my mom and Jessica get migraines somewhat frequently, so I suspect neither of them know all of their triggers.  I think it’s going to take time and a bit of effort for both of them to really get to the bottom of these headaches, but now they’ve got me to help them figure it out and armed with this new information, we should be able to figure it out together.

I started out researching this essay wanting to know what exactly causes migraines and what can be done to prevent them.  I figured it was a straightforward question, with, more than likely, an equally straight forward answer.  On the contrary, I found that the possible causes for these headaches are numerous and their true source is still unknown.  Luckily though, the numerous food triggers and natural remedies for migraines are well documented.  Using this information any migraine sufferer can analyze their lifestyle and dietary habits to determine their own personal migraine triggers and hopefully prevent the migraines altogether by avoiding these triggers.  In the end it’s up to each migraine sufferer to work out for themselves why they get the headaches and how to prevent them as much as possible. 

Works Cited

“Causes and Treatments of Migraine and Related Headaches”.  http://www.emedicinehealth.com.  11 Oct. 2005.  Web.  29 Nov. 2010. 

Law, Kristy.  “Migraine Headache: Symptoms, Causes, and Triggers”.   http://health.learninginfo.org/.  Web.  29 Nov. 2010. 

“Migraines”.  http://www.home-remedies-for-you.com.  2008.  Web.  29 Nov. 2010.

“Migraine Triggers”.  www.uhs.berkeley.edu.  Web.  29 Nov 2010. 

 “What is Migraine?  What Causes Migraines?”.  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com.  30 Apr. 2009.  Web.  29 Nov. 2010. 

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