A migraine headache is a very bad, throbbing or pulsating headache that tends to recur. It is often associated with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. Hands and feet may feel cold and sweaty and unusual odors may be intolerable. Migraines may disrupt your sleep and can cause depression. Moving around can make the headache feel worse. Attacks tend to become less severe as the migraine sufferer ages.
Migraines afflict about 24 million people in the United States. They may occur at any age, but usually begin between the ages of 10 and 40 and diminish after age 50. Some people experience several migraines a month, while others have only a few migraines throughout their lifetime. Approximately 75% of migraine sufferers are women.
Migraine pain is often intensified by routine physical activity, coughing, straining, or lowering the head. The headache is often so severe that it interferes with daily activity and may awaken the person. The attack is debilitating, and migraine sufferers are often left feeling tired and weak once the headache has passed.
Types of migraines:
There are many forms of migraine headaches. Migraines are classified according to the symptoms they produce. The two most common types are migraine with aura and migraine without aura. We will only reference these two types of migraines in this article.
The aura is the occurrence of neurological symptoms 10-30 minutes before the classic migraine attack. You may see flashing lights, zigzag lines, wavy images, or hallucinations. Some migraine sufferers experience temporary loss of vision. Other symptoms of classic migraine include speech difficulty, confusion, weakness of an arm or leg and tingling of face or hands.
Non-visual auras include motor weakness, speech or language abnormalities, dizziness, vertigo, and tingling or numbness (parasthesia) of the face, tongue, or extremities.
Migraine with aura:
The pain of a classic migraine headache (migraine with aura) is described as an intense throbbing or pounding felt in the forehead/temple, ear/jaw or around the eyes. The pain typically begins in a specific area on one side of the head, then spreads and builds in intensity over 1 to 2 hours and then gradually subsides. An attack usually lasts no more than 24 hours but, in some cases, may last two or more days.
Migraine without aura:
Migraine without aura is the most common type and may occur on one or both sides (bilateral) of the head. Fatigue, mood changes, mental fuzziness and fluid retention may be experienced the day before the headache. With this type of migraine headache usually come abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light (photophobia).
Both types of migraines can strike as often as several times a week or rarely as once every few years. People who have migraines on rare occasions may confuse them with symptoms of the flu. If you have regular weekly or monthly migraines, you definitely know you have a migraine.
What Causes Migraine?
The cause of migraine is still widely unknown. Some doctors think migraines may be caused by a chemical or electrical problem in certain parts of the brain. A key element of a migraine headache is blood flow change in the brain. According to this theory, the nervous system responds to a trigger such as stress, (see more on triggers below), by creating spasms in the nerve-rich arteries at the base of the brain. The spasms constrict several arteries supplying blood to the brain, including arteries from the scalp and neck.
As these arteries constrict, the flow of blood to the brain is reduced. At the same time, platelets clump together and release a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin acts as a powerful constrictor of arteries further reducing blood and oxygen supply to the brain. In reaction to the reduced oxygen supply, certain arteries within the brain dilate to meet the brain's energy needs. This dilation spreads, finally affecting neck and scalp arteries. Some doctors believe this dilation causes the pain of migraine.
Another theory is, the headache may result from a series of reactions in the central nervous system caused by changes in the body or in the environment. There is often a family history of the disorder, suggesting that migraine sufferers may inherit sensitivity to triggers that produce inflammation in the blood vessels and nerves around the brain, causing pain.
A trigger is any stimulus that initiates a process or reaction. Some things are known to trigger a migraine or make it worse. If you are a migraine sufferer, you probably already know what stimulus triggers your migraines.
Common migraine triggers are: