Migraine Headaches; Typically, migraines are severe, recurring headaches that are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise. The word migraine is from Latin hemicrania, meaning one-half of the skull.
Doctors used to think a migraine resulted when blood vessels in the head underwent a constriction-dilation, and the widened blood vessels activated pain neurons. Because of this, migraines are referred to as vascular headaches. Some neurologists think it is an inflammatory reaction.
The current theory is that nerve fibers in the brain stem release proteins into the blood circulation of the back of the head. These proteins may induce inflammation of the blood vessels. The inflammation triggers sensory neurons, which send pain signals back to the brain.
The symptoms of a migraine vary from person to person. Some people will have a headache on one side of the head, and others will have it on both sides. Some people will have pain preceded by an aura, and some will not experience an aura. In people who have an aura, the aura may be different.
Migraine Headaches = blood vessels
An aura is a sensory warning that a migraine is on the way. It may be visual. Some people describe a shimmering haze of bright jagged lines that starts as a point of bright light, gradually expands to fill the visual field (except for a narrow tunnel in the center), and then, just as gradually, subsides. Or, it may involve temporary speech impediments, a general sense of confusion, or tingling and numbness in the arms, legs, or face. It may begin 5 minutes or 45 minutes prior to the onset of pain. Auras occur in approximately 20 percent of the 16 to 18 million Americans who suffer from migraines.
The tendency towards migraines often is inherited. If both parents have them, there is a 75 percent chance their children will have them; if one parent has them, there is a 50 percent chance any child will be affected. Women are more likely to have migraines than men. And about 65 percent of women who have migraines have them around the time of menstruation. Pregnancy may hold the headaches at bay.
Migraine Headache = blood vessels
Certain foods may trigger migraines, including chocolate, red wine, aged cheeses, caffeinated beverages (or withdrawal from caffeine), processed meats, lentils, snow peas, and the flavor-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG). Other triggers include changes in barometric pressure and weather, certain chemicals (perfumes, insecticides, and carbon monoxide), missing or delayed meals, altered sleep-wake cycles, stress, depression, altitude changes, bright lights, and excessive noise.