not dominate your life, it can be managed,
but the first step is to recognize what you are suffering from --
and that children as young as 8 can suffer from it too.
A migraine headache is a
form of vascular headache. Migraine headache is caused by a combination of
vasodilatation (enlargement of blood vessels) and the release of chemicals
from nerve fibers that coil around the blood vessels. During a migraine
attack, the temporal artery enlarges. (The temporal artery is an artery that
lies on the outside of the skull just under the skin of the temple.)
Enlargement of the temporal artery stretches the nerves that coil around the
artery and causes the nerves to release chemicals. The chemicals cause
inflammation, pain, and further enlargement of the artery. The increasing
enlargement of the artery magnifies the pain.
commonly activate the sympathetic nervous system in the body. The
sympathetic nervous system is often thought of as the part of the nervous
system that controls primitive responses to stress and pain, the so-called
"fight or flight" response. The increased sympathetic nervous activity in
the intestine causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Sympathetic activity
also delays emptying of the stomach into the small intestine and thereby
prevents oral medications from entering the intestine and being absorbed.
The impaired absorption of oral medications is a common reason for the
ineffectiveness of medications taken to treat migraine headaches. The
increased sympathetic activity also decreases the circulation of blood, and
this leads to pallor of the skin as well as cold hands and feet. The
increased sympathetic activity also contributes to the sensitivity to light
and sound sensitivity as well as blurred vision.
Migraine afflicts 28
million Americans, with females suffering more frequently (17%) than males
(6%). Missed work and lost productivity from migraine create a significant
public burden. Nevertheless, migraine still remains largely undertreated and
underdiagnosed. Less than half the sufferers are diagnosed by their doctors.
A migraine trigger is any factor that causes a headache in individuals who
are prone to develop headaches. Only a small proportion of migraine
sufferers, however, clearly can identify triggers. Examples of triggers
include stress, sleep disturbances, fasting, hormones, bright or flickering
lights, odors, cigarette smoke, alcohol, aged cheeses, chocolate, monosodium
glutamate, nitrites, aspartame, and caffeine. For some women, the decline in
the blood level of estrogen during the onset of menstruation is a trigger
for migraine headaches. The interval between exposure to a trigger and the
onset of headache varies from hours to two days. Exposure to a trigger does
not always lead to a headache. Conversely, avoidance of triggers cannot
completely prevent headaches. Different migraine sufferers respond to
different triggers, and any one trigger will not induce a headache in every
person who has migraine headaches.
Disturbances such as sleep deprivation, too much sleep, poor quality of
sleep, and frequent awakening at night are associated with both migraine and
tension headaches, whereas improved sleep habits have been shown to reduce
the frequency of migraine headaches. Sleep also has been reported to shorten
the duration of migraine headaches.
Fasting possibly may precipitate migraine headaches by causing the release
of stress-related hormones and lowering blood sugar. Therefore, migraine
sufferers should avoid prolonged fasting.
Bright lights and other high intensity visual stimuli can cause headaches in
healthy subjects as well as patients with migraine headaches, but migraine
patients seem to have a lower than normal threshold for light-induced pain.
Sunlight, television, and flashing lights all have been reported to
precipitate migraine headaches.
Caffeine is contained in many food products (cola, tea, chocolates, coffee)
and OTC analgesics. Caffeine in low doses can increase alertness and energy,
but caffeine in high doses can cause insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and
headaches. The over-use of caffeine-containing analgesics causes rebound
headaches. Furthermore, individuals who consume high levels of caffeine
regularly are more prone to develop withdrawal headaches when caffeine is
tyramine, MSG, nitrites and aspartame
Chocolate has been reported to cause migraine headaches, but scientific
studies have not consistently demonstrated an association between chocolate
consumption and headaches. Red wine has been shown to cause migraine
headaches in some migraine sufferers, but it is not clear whether white wine
also will cause migraine headaches. Tyramine (a chemical found in cheese,
wine, beer, dry sausage, and sauerkraut) can precipitate migraine headaches,
but there is no evidence that consuming a low-tyramine diet can reduce
migraine frequency. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been reported to cause
headaches, facial flushing, sweating, and palpitations when consumed in high
doses on an empty stomach. This phenomenon has been called Chinese
restaurant syndrome. Nitrates and nitrites (chemicals found in hotdogs, ham,
frankfurters, bacon and sausages) have been reported to cause migraine
headaches. Aspartame, a sugar-substitute sweetener found in diet drinks and
snacks, has been reported to trigger headaches when used in high doses for
Some women who suffer from migraine headaches experience more headaches
around the time of their menstrual periods. Other women experience migraine
headaches only during the menstrual period. The term "menstrual migraine" is
used mainly to describe migraines that occur in women who have almost all of
their headaches from two days before to one day after their menstrual
periods. Declining levels of estrogen at the onset of menses is likely to be
the cause of menstrual migraines. Decreasing levels of estrogen also may be
the cause of migraine headaches that develop among users of birth control
pills during the week that estrogens are not taken.
Mayo Clinic has good definitions and advice.