Migraine – A Real Headache

What is Migraine

A Migraine is a very painful type of headache. People who get migraines often describe the pain as pulsing or throbbing in one area of the head. A Migraine Headache is a form of Vascular Headache. Migraine Headache is caused by vasodilatation (enlargement of blood vessels) that causes the release of chemicals from nerve fibers that coil around the large arteries of the brain. Enlargement of these blood vessels stretches the nerves that coil around them and causes the nerves to release chemicals. The chemicals cause inflammation, pain, and further enlargement of the artery. The increasing enlargement of the arteries magnifies the pain. Most people with Migraine Headache feel the pain in the temples or behind one eye or ear, although any part of the head can be involved. Besides pain, migraine also can cause nausea and vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Some people also may see spots or flashing lights or have a temporary loss of vision.

Causes of Migraine

The exact cause of migraine is not fully understood. Most researchers think that migraine is due to abnormal changes in levels of substances that are naturally produced in the brain. When the levels of these substances increase, they can cause inflammation. This inflammation then causes blood vessels in the brain to swell and press on nearby nerves, causing pain. Genes also have been linked to migraine. People who get migraines may have abnormal genes that control the functions of certain brain cells.

Watch “Get instant relief from Migraine Headache” Video

Triggers of Migraine

Migraine Incidence by Age, Gender, Type
Migraine Incidence by Age, Gender, Type (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Triggers can vary from person to person and don’t always lead to migraine. A combination of triggers, not a single thing or event is more likely to set off an attack. A person’s response to triggers also can vary from migraine to migraine.

  • Lack of or too much sleep
  • Skipped meals
  • Bright lights, loud noises, or strong odors
  • Hormone changes during the menstrual cycle
  • Stress and anxiety, or relaxation after stress
  • Weather changes
  • Alcohol (often red wine)
  • Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
  • Foods that contain nitrates, such as hot dogs and lunch meats
  • Foods that contain MSG (monosodium glutamate), a flavor enhancer found in fast foods, broths, seasonings, and spices
  • Foods that contain tyramine, such as aged cheeses, soy products, fava beans, hard sausages, smoked fish, and Chianti wine
  • Aspartame (NutraSweet® and Equal®)

How to find out Triggers of Migraine

To pinpoint your migraine triggers, keep a headache diary. Each day you have a migraine headache, put that in your diary. Also write down the:

  • The time of day your headache started
  • Where you were and what you were doing when the migraine started
  • What you ate or drank 24 hours before the attack
  • Each day you have your period, not just the first day  (This can allow you and your doctor to see if your headaches occur at the same or similar time as your period.)

Talk with your doctor about what sets off your headaches to help find the right treatment for you.

Symptoms of Migraine

Classical Migraine attacks have several Symptoms:-

  • Headaches that occur in bouts of between roughly 4 to 72 hours
  • The headaches usually affect one side of the head at a time, although both sides may be affected in separate attacks
  • The headaches are usually throbbing and worsened by normal physical activity
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Preceding symptoms, called ‘aura’, that most often are visual, such as zigzag lines or flashing lights across or at the edges of the fields of vision
  • Other symptoms can include sensitivity to light and sound, or non-visual aura such as a sensation of tingling in the body.

Only about 15 per cent of people experience visual aura before an attack. ‘Common migraine’ refers to the majority who has all the other symptoms but no aura. Rarely some people with migraine experience transient loss of power of a limb with severe attacks, or temporary difficulty with speech.

Treatment of Migraine

Individuals with occasional mild migraine headaches that do not interfere with daily activities usually medicate themselves with over-the-counter (OTC or non-prescription) pain relievers (analgesics). Many OTC analgesics are available. OTC analgesics have been shown to be safe and effective for short-term relief of headache (as well as muscle aches, pains, Menstrual Cramps and Fever) when used according to the instructions on their labels.

There are two major classes of OTC analgesics:

Non-Medication Therapies for Migraine

Therapy that does not involve medications can provide symptomatic and preventative therapy.

  • Using ice, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques may be helpful in stopping an attack once it has started.
  • Sleep may be the best medicine if it is possible.

Preventing migraine takes motivation for the patient to make some life changes. Patients are educated as to triggering factors that can be avoided. These triggers include:

  • Smoking
  • Avoiding certain foods especially those high in tyramine such as sharp cheeses or those containing sulphites (wines) or nitrates (nuts, pressed meats).

Generally, leading a healthy life-style with good nutrition, an adequate intake of fluids, sufficient sleep and exercise may be useful. Acupuncture has been suggested to be a useful therapy.



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