Migraine - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

By: Juliet Cohen


Migraine is a neurological disease of which the most common symptom is an intense and disabling episodic headache. Migraine headaches are usually characterized by severe pain on one or both sides of the head. Absent serious head injuries, stroke, and tumors, the recurring severity of the pain indicates a vascular headache rather than a tension headache .

More than 28 million Americans three times more women than men suffer from migraine headaches, a type of headache that's often severe. In some cases, these painful headaches are preceded or accompanied by a sensory warning sign such as flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in your arm or leg.

A migraine headache is also often accompanied by other signs and symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine pain can be excruciating and may incapacitate you for hours or even days.

Fortunately, management of migraine headache pain has improved dramatically in the last decade. If you've seen a doctor in the past and had no success, it's time to make another appointment. Although there's still no cure, medications can help reduce the frequency of migraine headaches and stop the pain once it has started. The right medicines combined with self-help remedies and changes in lifestyle may make a tremendous difference for you.

A migraine headache is a throbbing or pulsating headache that is often one sided (unilateral) and associated with nausea; vomiting; sensitivity to light, sound, and smells; sleep disruption; and depression. Attacks are often recurrent and tend to become less severe as the migraine sufferer ages.

Migraine headaches seem to be caused in part by changes in the level of a body chemical called serotonin. Serotonin plays many roles in the body, and it can have an effect on the blood vessels. When serotonin levels are high, blood vessels constrict (shrink). When serotonin levels fall, the blood vessels dilate (swell). This swelling can cause pain or other problems. Many things can affect the level of serotonin in your body, including your level of blood sugar, certain foods and changes in your estrogen level if you're a woman.

Causes of Migraine

The cause of migraine is unknown. The condition 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. Many factors can trigger migraines, including tiredness, stress, dehydration, missed or delayed meals, and certain food and drinks, such as cheese, chocolate, coffee, tea and alcohol.

Symptoms of Migraine

1. Anxiety

2. Exposure to light

3. Sensitivity to light and sound

4. Lack of food or sleep

5. Nausea with or without vomiting

6. Stress

Treatment of Migraine

1. Try avoiding any food which seems implicated and at a later stage take a small trial dose of the food again to see whether it genuinely is involved.

2. Sometimes bathing your head in cold water or using a cold compress on the forehead is helpful.

3. At the first symptom of an attack take a pain killer eg aspirin or paracetamol, even if this means waking yourself up when you notice symptoms while half asleep in the early hours of the morning. (Often by getting up time it is too late to abort the attack.)

4. Sometimes relaxation and meditation techniques may be helpful as may some of the complementary therapies.

5. There are some over the counter preparations which contain a pain killer and a medication which stops nausea and vomiting (antisemetic). These are often even more effective than the pain killer alone, as migraine is associated with poor absorption from the stomach and a tendency for food and drink to stay in the stomach much longer than usual (prior to being sick).

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Juliet Cohen writes articles for headache doctor. She also writes articles for migraine treatment and anxiety disorders.

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