Throbbing headache pain, nausea, sensitivity to light and
sound. You feel tired and "sick" all over. If you
have experienced these symptoms, you may be suffering from
migraine, a condition that affects millions of people. Migraine is a misunderstood and often misdiagnosed
condition. But your migraine is real and it's very different
from other "headaches."
Even though the
causes of migraines are not completely understood, migraines
may have biological causes.
Migraine pain may be throbbing,
pounding or felt more on one side of your head.
The usual symptoms of a migraine headache are intense pain on
one side of the head, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to
light and sound. Migraine headaches can be severely
debilitating, or can involve only mild to moderate pain.
Migraine headaches tend to be hereditary and affect women more
than men. An estimated 40 million Americans are migraine
- One theory is
that certain events or substances (triggers) can set off
an imbalance of naturally occurring chemicals in the brain
causing the blood vessels of the head to expand, which in
turn causes the surrounding nerves to pulse and fire.
which helps regulate pain and normally prevents this
process, is found in lowered levels in some migraine
sufferers. Some migraine sufferers also have lowered
levels of magnesium, a chemical that contributes to proper
nerve cell functioning. Impaired magnesium levels may
destabilize the nerve and trigger headaches.
theory holds that a drop in blood flow from the center to
the outside regions of the brain triggers migraine. There
is data demonstrating that figure skaters, who perform
spins that cause blood to flow away from the center of the
brain, seem to be more susceptible to migraines.
hormones are also suspected. During childhood, boys and
girls suffer from migraine equally, but the ratios sharply
diverge after puberty. Approximately 50% of female
migraine sufferers report an association between
menstruation and migraines.
Diagnosing Your Migraine
Early in a migraine attack some
people experience warning symptoms called the aura, from the
Greek word for "wind."
Just as a strong wind may
warn of a coming storm, the aura may come just a few minutes
before the "storm" of a severe migraine attack. The
warning symptoms seem to involve both electrical and chemical
changes in the brain as well as a reduction in the flow of
blood to parts of the brain.
This type of headache is called migraine
with aura and has been traditionally referred to as
These changes mean the aura can affect vision temporarily,
causing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or just a vague
awareness that something is wrong. Occasionally people may
experience numbness or difficulty forming words or thoughts.
Most patients however, have no aura or warning at all; this is
called migraine without aura or common migraine. Even
if there's no clear-cut warning, some people with migraine may
notice irritability or mood swings just before the attack
There may be nausea or vomiting with attacks. In addition to
severe pulsating or throbbing pain, there is usually
sensitivity to light and noise. Dizziness and lightheadedness
are common. Sometimes the pain is located on just one side of
the head. In fact, the word migraine comes from the Greek word
"hemikrani" meaning "half the head."
Emotionally, migraines can be every bit as devastating as the
pain itself. You feel frustrated and alone, as though no one
really understands what is happening to you. Words can't
describe how sick you feel and how it has put your entire life
Recently the International Headache Society (IHS) recently
published criteria for diagnosis of migraine that are now
widely accepted and used by physicians all over the world. If
your headaches have any two features from Group A below, plus
any one feature from Group B, chances are you have migraine.
- Pain is
- Pain is
- Pain is bad
enough to interfere with or prevent normal activity
- Pain is
worsened by activity
- Nausea or
vomiting comes with the pain
to light and noise comes with the pain