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 sufferers.
- 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.
- Serotonin, 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.
- Another 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.
- Female 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 classic migraine.
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 begins.
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 on hold.
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 one-sided
- Pain is throbbing
- Pain is bad enough to interfere with or prevent normal activity
- Pain is worsened by activity
- Nausea or vomiting comes with the pain
- Sensitivity to light and noise comes with the pain