What Are Migraines?
Migraines are quite an enigma because they are a pain that can’t be seen, and also seem to be described differently by everyone who has them. They affect around 28 million Americans, 17% of the women in this country and only 6% of the men; and despite this relatively large amount of people who suffer from them, migraines remain largely underdiagnosed and undertreated. In fact, less than half of the people who have migraines are diagnosed from their doctor, making it hard to explain to your boss without any validation from your doctor that you had to leave work because your head hurt.
So what makes migraines worse from regular headaches? For starters, a migraine is a form of vascular headache, meaning that it is caused by the enlargement of blood vessels in the brain. When these blood vessels enlarge, the nerves that are coiled around them stretch and release chemicals that cause inflammation, pain, and further enlargement of the artery—like adding wood to the furnace.
Research has shown that migraine attacks commonly activate the sympathetic nervous system, or the system that controls primitive responses to stress and pain, which would explain why someone with a migraine would also suffer from nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Migraines often trigger the sympathetic system to delay the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine, meaning that oral medications meant to relieve migraine pain might not reach the bloodstream until the migraine is gone. The sympathetic system also contribute to the sensitivity to light and sound as well as blurred vision that migraine sufferers complain of.
Migraines are usually described more as an intense, throbbing or pounding pain that often involved one temple, although the pain is also located in the forehead, around the eye, or at the back of the head. Most people describe the pain as unilateral, or only on one side of the head, although it is not unheard of to have a migraine affect both sides of the head. Most migraines will even change their approach tactics, attacking from one side and then the other. In fact, migraines that are always located on one side of the head could be the result of a more serious condition like a brain tumor.
Unfortunately, migraines are usually a chronic condition, and have triggers and methods for relief that are different for each individual. Some common premonitory symptoms, or warning signals, might include things like:
Cravings for sweet or salty foods
About 20% of migraine headaches have shown to be associated with an aura that either precedes the headache, or occurs simultaneously with the headache. Auras most commonly are flashing or brightly colored lights that occur in a zigzag pattern, starting in the middle of the visual field and progressing outward. Although, auras also present themselves as a scotoma, or a hole, in the visual field—also known as a blind spot.
Because there is so much still to research within the field of migraines, it is important that those who suffer from them research their own symptoms and decide what the best remedy for their own individual needs is.