The Mechanism of Migraine
What is taking place physiologically while a migraine headache occurs? It appears the start of a migraine headache is in the brain stem. The brain stem is a bit above the spinal cord, but below 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 going back to the “control center”.
The following is an incomplete listing of migraine symptoms:
- Auras (light spots)
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Significant pain in the head
- Difficulties in speaking
- Throbbing or pulsing headache (usually unilateral)
Migraine attacks often recur, and the symptoms will vary from person to person.
Some herbal remedies have been utilized. 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 other 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, precluding the body from obtaining migraine pain signals.
Specific environmental triggers seem to produce a migraine attack. These triggers include some foods, stressful lifestyles, and exposure to bright lights or loud sounds. Commonly, a few 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, not enough sleep, menstruation, and weather changes. Withdrawal from caffeine and ergotamines can also cause migraine headaches. The rationale why foods like cheese, chocolates and alcohols can trigger migraines is the occurrence of amines that act on the vascular system by causing 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 precluding certain stressful lifestyles to relaxation techniques. Migraine headache intensity varies from one individual to the next, and no clear cut remedy presently exists.
Certain prescription medications are able to ease the symptoms of migraines. These include Imitrex, Maxalt, Zomig, Relpax, Midrin, and Migranal. They exert their action by causing cerebral vasoconstriction.
Certain non-traditional treatments have proven effective. These include chiropractic manipulation, acupuncture and biofeedback therapy. Magnetic therapy moreover has been utilized with success. Magnetic therapy leads to increased electrical activity in the brain. This steps up 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 usually involves either:
- A magnetic pillow pad
- A magnetic head band
- A magnetic eye mask
A natural treatment technique includes using an ice pack on the back of the neck close to the base of the skull. This decreases the flow of blood to the head, resulting in less pressure in the head. Make sure there is a barrier between the ice pack and the skin, for example a wet cloth.
Migraine Versus other Headaches
What is the difference between a migraine and a regular headache? Migraine headaches are mainly one-sided, with concomitant nausea, decrease of appetite and vomiting. Frequently, light sensitivity accompanies the migraine headache. Contrast this with the conventional tension headache, which is distributed over the entire head. In addition, the common headache is not as intense as a migraine headache. Migraine is best portrayed as a throbbing headache, whereas a tension headache only has a dull, constant ache.
Several Types of Migraines
There are standard migraines and classic migraines. Classic migraines begin with a “aura” that involves changes in visual perception. The auras go on around 10-30 minutes and are associated with flashing lights and/or colors, and possibly a temporary loss of vision. You may feel a burning or peculiar prickly feeling, and maybe feel irritable and restless.
A common migraine does not involve an aura. A common migraine begins slower than a classic migraine and the pain may only be unilateral. However, a common migraine lasts longer than a classic one, and may interfere more extensively with your normal activities.
Most symptoms of migraines disappear after a few days. If migraines are left untreated, however, they might induce strokes, aneurysms, permanent vision loss, and even comas.
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