What is a Migraine Headache? Causes, Symptoms and Prevention of Migraine Headache

Migraines are due to changes in the brain and surrounding blood vessels.

Migraine is a neurological syndrome characterized by altered bodily perceptions, severe headaches, and nausea. Physiologically, the migraine headache is a neurological condition more common to women than to men. The word migraine was borrowed from Old French migraigne (originally as "megrim", but respelled in 1777 on a contemporary French model). The French term derived from a vulgar pronunciation of the Late Latin word hemicrania, itself based on Greek hemikrania, from Greek roots for "half" and "skull".

What is Migraine Headache? What Makes a Headache a Migraine?

Almost everyone gets headaches. A migraine is different. Doctors define it as a recurrent headache that has additional symptoms. The pain is often throbbing and on one or both sides of the head. People with migraines often feel dizzy or sick to their stomachs. They may be sensitive to light, noise, or smells. Migraines can be disabling, and teens with migraines often need to skip school, sports, work, or other activities until they feel better.

The cause of migraine headache is the enlargement of blood vessels. The enlargement of the blood vessels or the vasodilatation stretches the nerves around the blood vessels which in turn release some chemicals. These chemicals are responsible for pain, inflammation and enlargement of arteries of the brain.

Migraine attacks or migraine headaches are associated with sympathetic nervous system or the (ortho-) sympathetic nervous system (SNS). SNS is responsible for controlling stress, pain and inducing fight-or-flight response. Migraine headaches activate sympathetic nervous system and that increases sympathetic nervous activity, as a result it causes conditions such as vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

An intense migraine attack can last from about 4 to 72 hours and the frequency of migraine attacks is unpredictable.

What Causes a Migraine?

The main cause of migraine headache is the enlargement of temporal artery found just under the skin of the temples. It causes nerves to stretch around the temporal artery that in turn triggers the release of chemicals causing inflammation, pain and even more dilation of the artery. 

Although, not all scientists agree about what causes migraines but some common migraine triggers are:

1.       Stress, tension
2.       Menstruation
3.       Skipping meals
4.       Too much caffeine
5.       Certain foods (alcohol, cheese, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, fatty or fried food, lunch meats, hot dogs, yogurt, aspartame, or anything with MSG (monosodium glutamate), a seasoning often used in Asian foods)
6.       Lack of nutrition in the diet
7.       Sudden changes in sleep patterns
8.       Changes in hormone levels
9.       Smoking
10.   Weather changes
11.   Travel
12.   Heredity
13.   Certain medications
14.   Birth Control Pills
15.   High altitude
16.   High heat and humidity
17.   Lack of sleep
18.   Foods with tyramine (an amino acid found in found in chocolate and soft drinks, cheese and beer)
19.   Imbalance in blood pressure
20.   Falling estrogen (female steroid sex hormones) levels during the menstrual cycle

Symptoms of Migraine Headache

With the common migraine, headache begins without warning.  Symptoms, if any, may vary from person to person and may range in severity.

1.       Moderate to severe, throbbing headache- right side or left side of the head.
2.       Head pain that gets severe with increased physical activity.
3.       Sensitivity to light and/or sound.
4.       Nausea or vomiting.
5.       Red eyes with burning sensation in eyes
6.       Loss of appetite
7.       Migraine sufferer wants to stay all alone and finds comfort in silent and dark room
8.       Depression and irritability
9.       Numbness or weakness in an arm or leg
10.   Change in mood
11.   Fatigue and muscle tension
12.   Visual disturbances such as blind spots or blurred vision

Preventing a Migraine

The best way to prevent migraines is to learn what triggers your migraines and then try to avoid these triggers. Take a break from activities that provoke a migraine, such as using the computer for a long time. If you know that certain foods trigger your migraines, try to avoid them. Some people find that cutting back on caffeine intake or drinking a lot of water can help prevent migraines. In addition, eating well balanced diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, avoiding smoking and alcohol can be helpful in the prevention of migraine headache. One should also avoid foods that contain aspartame, monosodium glutamate, tyramine, nitrates and sulphites. Environmental factors such as air pollution, indoor pollution, tobacco smoke and cosmetic fragrances should also be avoided.

The most important step in the prevention of migraine headache is keeping a diary to help identify as many triggers as possible and taking precautions accordingly. 

 Related and Recommended

Natural Headache Remedies: How to Treat a Headache Naturally?

Headache can be very irritating and very disturbing for everyone who suffers from it. It’s a very common health condition too. Most of us suffer from headache at some point of time or other though the frequency and intensity do vary person to person. But this is about common headaches which are fairly harmless. It must be noted that there are other types of headaches which are more serious for the health and should be treated with carefully. So, headache can be a result of minor health problems and conditions or it can also be a symptom of serious health problems and disorders. It is advisable to know properly what is headache and the causes of headache...

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