The Mechanism of Migraine
What is taking place physiologically when a migraine headache happens? It appears the origin of a migraine headache is in the brain stem. The brain stem is a bit above the spinal cord, but beneath the cortex of the brain. The migraine “control center” in the brain stem emits signals to the blood vessels lining the brain, requesting these blood vessels to dilate and expand. In the process, pain signals are sent back to the “control center”.
Migraine Compared to other Headaches
What is the difference between a migraine and a regular headache? Migraine headaches are for the most part one-sided, with concomitant nausea, reduction of appetite and vomiting. Often, light sensitivity accompanies the migraine headache. Compare this with the conventional tension headache, which is distributed over the entire head. Furthermore, the common headache isn't as severe as a migraine headache. Migraine is better described as a throbbing headache, whereas a tension headache merely has a dull, constant ache.
Several Types of Migraines
There are regular migraines and classic migraines. Classic migraines commence with a “aura” that involves changes in visual perception. The auras go on approximately 10-30 minutes and are associated with flashing lights and/or colors, and perhaps a temporary reduction of vision. You may feel a burning or curious prickly feeling, and possibly feel irritable and restless.
A common migraine does not involve an aura. A common migraine begins more slowly than a classic migraine and the pain may merely be unilateral. However, a common migraine lasts longer than a classic one, and may interfere more extensively with your typical activities.
Certain environmental triggers seem to initiate a migraine attack. These triggers include some foods, stressful lifestyles, and exposure to bright lights or loud sounds. Commonly, particular foods such as red wine, cheese, chocolate, meats cured with nitrates, and MSG are able to induce migraine headaches. Additional triggers include anger and/or stress, too little sleep, menstruation, and weather changes. Withdrawal from caffeine and ergotamines can also cause migraine headaches. The reason why foods like cheese, chocolates and alcohols can lead to migraines is the presence of amines that act on the vascular system by producing venal constriction through release of catecholamines.
There is an extensive range of treatments for migraines. They vary from medications like the triptans (sumatriptan, zolmitriptan, naratriptan, rizatriptan, almotriptan, frovatriptan) to consuming healthful foodstuffs, to avoiding certain stressful lifestyles to relaxation techniques. Migraine headache intensity varies from one individual to the next, and no clear cut remedy presently exists.
Specific prescription medications are able to ease the symptoms of migraines. These include Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, Relpax, Midrin, and Migranal. They exert their action by inducing cerebral vasoconstriction.
Certain herbal remedies have been used. These include feverfew, chamomile, valerian, white willow and skullcap. These following supplements also might help individuals suffering from migraines:
- Coenzyme Q10
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B2
Lastly, some additional remedies include extra magnesium in one's diet, regular physical exercise, and relaxation techniques like yoga or transcendental meditation. Recently, a new form of migraine treatment called Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) has been developed. TENS sends a mild shock of electricity, avoiding the body from getting migraine pain signals.
The following is an incomplete directory of migraine symptoms:
- Auras (light spots)
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Severe pain in the head
- Problems in speaking
- Throbbing or pulsing headache (usually unilateral)
Migraine attacks frequently recur, and the symptoms will differ from person to person.
Certain unconventional treatments have proven effective. These include chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture and biofeedback therapy. Magnetic therapy in addition has been used with success. Magnetic therapy leads to increased electrical activity in the brain. This raises neural conductivity which then stimulates in the brain the secretion of the hormones serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin controls moods and depression tendencies. Magnetic therapy treatment normally involves either:
- A magnetic pillow pad
- A magnetic head band
- A magnetic eye mask
A natural care technique includes using an ice pack on the back of the neck close to the base of the skull. This lessens the flow of blood to the head, resulting in diminished pressure in the head. Make sure there is a barrier between the ice pack and the skin, for example a wet cloth.
A good amount of symptoms of migraines disappear after a few days. Providing migraines are left untreated, however, they may induce strokes, aneurysms, permanent vision loss, and even comas.
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