What Causes Migraine Headaches?

8/04/2011 09:25:00 PM ·

Many people are affected by migraines every day. The symptoms are sometimes so severe that it leads to an inability to function in daily life. The pain can become excruciating, yet there is relief for the underlying symptoms. 

What is a migraine?

A migraine causes throbbing head pain usually on one side of the head although the pain may be on both sides. These headaches are due to vasodilation or enlargement of the brain’s blood vessels. This enlargement activates the surrounding nerves which creates pain. The sympathetic nervous system is also activated. The headache can last for hours or even days at a time. An aura may precede and contain sensory symptoms such as blind spots, tingling sensations or seeing flashes of bright lights. Some people may experience premonitions up to a day before. Symptoms of premonitions can be increased energy, extreme thirst, changes in mood, tiredness and craving food. In addition to the throbbing pain, other symptoms include fatigue, confusion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cold hands or feet and sensitivity to light, sounds or odors.

What causes migraine headaches?

The causes of migraine headaches can be attributed to a drop in the brain chemical, serotonin, can cause migraine headaches. As serotonin levels drop, the trigeminal nerve system may be activated. Neuropeptides may be released which cause the extreme pain. Genetics may also be a causal factor.

What are the treatments?

There is a vast array of treatment options available for sufferers. The two main goals of the medication are pain relief and prevention. Over-the-counter pain relief medications may help such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Prescription medications such as ergotamine can help ease the pain. The doctor may put the patient on a program with medications such as propanolol and divalproex as a preventative measure.

How to deal with the pain of migraines

Some of the most effective ways to treat pain caused by migraine headaches is to turn off the lights, go to a quiet room,  or stay away from the smells and sounds that can aggravate your symptoms. Sleep can also provide relief. Stress reduction is an important part of pain management. Other ways to manage pain include ice, scalp massage, relaxation and biofeedback. Getting regular exercise is also beneficial.

What does a migraine headache feel like?

The pain is the defining factor of many sufferers. The pain can be so extreme that it interferes with everyday activities. Although the pain is the main obstacle, there can be a wide variety of symptoms due to the aura and premonition. The sensitivity to light, sound and odors can be difficult to manage as well.

Are there different kinds of migraine headaches?

The two main types are classic and common migraines. The classic type begins with an aura and the pain may occur on one or both sides. The common form usually has no aura and occurs on one side. People who have the common type may struggle more with everyday activities. There are also two variant forms. Vertebrobasilar migraines have fainting, dizziness and double vision as symptoms. Hemiplegic migraines look like a stroke as there is paralysis or weakness on one side of the body.

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