Understanding Migraines

A migraine is characterized as an intense headache with a pulsing or throbbing sensation. A migraine usually occurs on only one side of the head and some other symptoms may include vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to sound and light. Some migraine attacks can last up to days and be extremely severe. This may cause a migraine victim to lay down in a quiet and dark place. Migraines may have some trigger symptoms that is a warning sign.

Some examples may include tingling of the arm or leg, flashes of light and blind spots prior to the migraine.

    Many people with migraines begin having symptoms in their childhood to early adulthood. There are four stages of migraines: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome. Some people may not experience all of these stages of a migraine. The prodrome stage comes a couple of days before the onset of a migraine. Symptoms you may experience during the prodrome stage includes food cravings, depression, constipation, hyperactivity, neck stiffness, uncontrollable yawning, and irritability. The second stage of a migraine is called an aura. Aura can either occur before or during a migraine. Auras are related to your nervous system symptoms that are usually visual disturbances. Some examples would include flashes of lights. Auras can also sometimes be motor, verbal, and sensory disturbances.

Most people do not get to experience an aura, but if one does, they usually lasts 20-60 minutes.

People who experience an aura would have a visual phenomena such as seeing bright spots, flashes or shapes), prickling sensations up the arm of legs, vision loss, aphasia, or limb weakness. A migraine attack can last up to three days.

During this time, one may experience some symptoms of a migraine including a pulsating and throbbing pain, pain on one or both sides of the head, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to different sounds, light, and smell, blurred vision, and lightheadedness or fainting spells. The final stage of a migraine is also known has postdrome. This occurs after a migraine attack. Those who are in this phase may feel tired, washed out, and drained. However, some people reported of feeling mild euphoria.

    Although we cannot find the exact thing that causes migraines, we have found some genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the onset of migraines. Migraines may be caused by the changes of the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is a major pain pathway. Any brain chemical imbalance, such as serotonin, can cause migraines. Serotonin is specifically linked to migraines because it regulates the pain in the nervous system. Furthermore, serotonin levels have been found to drop during migraine attacks.

This causes the trigeminal system to release neuropeptides, resulting in a headache. There are certain other triggers that may cause the start of a migraine. Hormonal changes in women, particularly the fluctuations in estrogen levels, have been known to trigger many migraine headaches in women.

Other stimuli that may trigger migraines include the following:

  • Salty foods (particularly aged cheese),
  • Skipping meals or fasting
  • Food additives (sweetener aspartame and preservative monosodium glutamate
  • Drinking alcohol (particularly wine) or caffeinated drinks
  • Stress
  • Certain sensory stimuli such as bright lights and loud noises
  • Unusual smell
  • Changes in sleeping routines
  • Certain changes in physical factors such as physical exertion
  • Changes in environment
  • Certain intake of medications can aggravate migraines.

Women who have a history of migraines would often say that they would have headaches right before and during their menstruation period, during pregnancy, or during menopause. This is because there is a change in estrogen levels. Other hormonal medications such as hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives may intensify the migraines in some, but reduce the frequency of migraines in others.

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