Migraine Headache Basics

Migraine Basics
Migraines: intense pulsing or throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, possible nausea and vomiting, light and/or sound sensitivity, visual disturbances and distortions. Routine activities are usually halted and medications are often required for sleep. It is always recommended to see a doctor to confirm a migraine diagnosis.

Further Info from the Mayo Clinic:
Some migraines are preceded or accompanied by sensory warning symptoms (aura), such as flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling in your arm or leg. Migraines may progress through four stages, including prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome, though you may not experience all the stages.
One or two days before a migraine, you may notice subtle changes that signify an oncoming migraine, including: constipation, depression, food cravings, hyperactivity, irritability, neck stiffness, and uncontrollable yawning.
: May occur before or during migraine headaches. Auras are nervous system symptoms that are usually visual disturbances, such as flashes of light. Sometimes auras can also be touching sensations (sensory), movement (motor) or speech (verbal) disturbances. Most people experience migraine headaches without aura. Each of these symptoms usually begins gradually, builds up over several minutes, and then commonly lasts for 20 to 60 minutes.
: The final phase, known as postdrome, occurs after a migraine attack. During this time you may feel drained and washed out, though some people report feeling mildly euphoric. 

“One contemporary theory of how migraines occur states that the arteries that feed the brain narrow temporarily due to a variety of factors, stress and muscular tension being two common ones. For a migraine sufferer, there is then a sudden shift in the blood vessels and they abruptly dilate, increasing the blood flow to the head. This sudden shift results in the intense pain of the migraine episode. If you can somehow keep your body’s nervous system more relaxed from day to day, the initial narrowing of the blood vessels that predisposes someone to a migraine might be eliminated and the chance of the migraine minimized.” Baxter Bell, M.D

Although much about the cause of migraines isn’t understood, genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role. Migraines may be caused by changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. Imbalances in brain chemicals — including serotonin, which helps regulate pain in your nervous system — also may be involved. Researchers continue to study the role of serotonin in migraines. Serotonin levels drop during migraine attacks. This may cause your trigeminal system to release substances called neuropeptides, which travel to your brain’s outer covering (meninges). The result is headache pain.

Common migraine triggers include:
Hormonal changes in women: Fluctuations in estrogen seem to trigger headaches in many women with known migraines. Women with a history of migraines often report headaches immediately before or during their periods, when they have a major drop in estrogen. Others have an increased tendency to develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause. Hormonal medications, such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy also may worsen or possibly lessen migraines.
Foods: Aged cheeses, salty foods and processed foods; Skipping meals or fasting
Food additives: The sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate, found in many foods
Drinks: Alcohol, especially wine, and highly caffeinated beverages
Stress: Stress at work or home
Sensory stimuli: Bright lights and sun glare, loud sounds, unusual smells — including perfume, paint thinner, secondhand smoke and others
Changes in wake-sleep pattern: Too much or too little sleep, jet lag.
Physical factors: Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity
Changes in the environment: A change of weather or barometric pressure
Medications: Oral contraceptives and vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin