What Are Migraines?
Migraines are a medically defined neurovascular disorder. They manifest as a headache which can range from mild intensity to severe intensity. What sets migraines apart is that they are often accompanied by other disabling symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light and sound. These attacks can last anywhere from a few hours to 3 days. Migraines are a complex condition because they are caused by a variety of factors and the symptoms differ notably from person to person. Many clinical complications can arise from living with migraines, such as depression or epilepsy (1).
Take Home Note:
Migraines are a complex condition and they present symptoms far beyond a usual headache.
What Causes Migraines?
This is a question which has baffled doctors and scientists for many years. The latest research suggests that 60% of migraine onset is due to genetic factors and 40% due to other biological or environmental factors. Genetic studies have implicated two specific genes as contributors for migraine onset. From the onset of a migraine, the processes that result in the symptoms have been well studied. They begin with the phenomenon called cortical spreading depression (depression in this sense means a decrease in activity and not the clinical condition). This phenomenon causes a wave of depolarization through the brain. Depolarization is essentially the brain cells releasing and absorbing various ions which include potassium and sodium. This depolarization wave causes the neuronal activity in the affected areas to decrease. When this happens, the first response of the brain’s blood vessels is to open and increase blood flow to the brain but due to the variety of signals that are occurring, the vessels also try to shut – which reduces blood flow to the brain. The opposing effects of the opening and shutting causes spasms in the vessels. The wave of depolarization also causes the activation of pain receptors in the various areas of the brain that deal with senses like sight and sound. The overall result is the distinct headache known to migraine sufferers (2).
Take Home Note:
Migraines are caused by a wave of activity running through the brain which has knock on effects that cause the well-known symptoms of migraines.
Are There Any Factors That Predispose Individuals To Migraines?
The genetic factors are major determinants as to whether particular individuals will experience migraines or not. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine if you are genetically predisposed without genetic sequencing which is highly costly. Some other risk factors which are much easier to observe are:
- Increased age
- Being female
- Other psychiatric disorders
- History of stroke
Most of these factors are outside of one’s control, but the potential risk factors can prepare individuals to seek out help before the problem gets too severe (3).
Take Home Note:
There are many risk factors which contribute to an increased onset of migraines. It is important to understand that having one or more of these risk factors should prepare you for the potential onset of migraines.
What Are The Types Of Migraines?
Migraines have been clinically typed into one of two categories. The more commonly experienced category is the migraine without aura. This is a migraine with the associated symptoms accompanying the headache. The headache and throbbing generally occurs on one side of the head.
The other kind of migraine is the migraine with aura. This category refers to the kind of migraine where there are neurological disturbances that precede a headache. These disturbances are usually more severe and the symptoms can often mimic those of a stroke (4).
Take Home Note:
There are two kinds of migraines. Most people know and understand the symptoms of a migraine without aura. A migraine with aura presents symptoms that are similar to a stroke.
What Are The Treatment Options For Migraines?
There are a variety of treatment options available for migraines. The first line of treatment is to prevent their occurrence in the first place. Special attention can be applied to discover some of the external triggers which may increase the chance of migraine symptoms occurring. The easiest way to identify these triggers is to keep a journal and record what the possible factor was that contributed to the onset of a particular migraine. Thereafter, it is important to avoid these triggers as much as possible. Some common triggers include alcohol, food additives and stress (5).
There are some pharmaceutical drugs available that prevent the onset of migraines or reduce the effect of symptoms. In order to obtain some of these drugs, it may be necessary to see a physician and obtain a prescription. There are also over-the-counter medications available. In most cases, these medicines carry notable side effects and long-term use can result in a dependency on the drugs or other adverse health effects. Long-term use of pharmaceutical drugs can also end up being quite expensive (6).
There are also alternative therapies for migraines. A common alternative therapy is taking natural supplements specifically designed to reduce migraine onset. These supplements usually contain plant extracts (like feverfew, butterbur and ginkgo biloba) and other compounds which have been associated with treating migraines in clinical research. Acupuncture and massage is also a viable option. Some experts have also suggested using aromatherapy to treat the tension and headaches which occur with migraines. Some alternative methods require more scientific research to determine their effectiveness but there have been anecdotal cases that support their use (7).
Because of the variability and range of symptoms that migraines present, it is important that an individual who suffers from them tries as many options for treatment as possible. It is important to work out what is individually the most ideal option and apply that as the method of treatment.