Why migraine occurs
Migraines, known to be one of the most common ailments of the nervous system, cause frequent headaches and at times other neurological symptoms such as tingling, numbness or weakness on one side of the body. However, initial symptom still remains occurrence of an aura (intuition that an attack is about to happen), such as a visual disturbance like bright spots or zigzag lines appearing before the eyes.
Now how does an aura begin? Well, it starts with temporary contraction of the vessels supplying blood to the brain. As soon as these vessels, tightly constricted till then, open up and a gush of blood flows through to the brain, a severe headache, mostly one-sided, follows. Though all migraines may not follow the same pattern, important is that these headaches occur after a person has passed through, rather than during, the times of stress, for example after an examination or some important interview.
Even as details about migraines are yet to be known, researchers point out that these severe headaches are caused by functional changes in the trigeminal nerve system, a major pain pathway in the nervous system. It may even result out of the imbalances in brain chemicals, including serotonin. The levels of serotonin, which plays a regulatory role for the pain messages passing through this pathway, drop during a headache. This, as per researchers, causes the trigeminal nerve to release substances called neuropeptides, which travel to the brain’s outer covering, known as meninges. Once it reaches there, blood vessels become enlarged and inflamed, resulting in headache.
Migraine may result out of several causes, but the most common triggers that have been witnessed include hormonal changes, stress, intake of certain foods, sensory stimuli, changes in the sleep-wake schedule and intense physical exertion, including sexual activity. On the hormonal front, the exact relationship between them (hormones) and headaches is not clear yet, but researchers believe fluctuations in estrogen trigger headaches in many women, who have history of migraines. Females often report headaches immediately before or during their periods, and this corresponds to a major drop in estrogen. Others have an increased tendency to develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause. Hormonal medications, such as contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy, may also worsen migraines.
Then, stress at work or home can instigate migraines. Overuse of caffeine; certain seasonings; fermented, pickled, marinated, canned or processed food; skipping meals or even fasting can trigger migraines. Alcohol, especially beer and red wine, too can be a cause. Bright light and sun glare can produce head pain. So can unusual smells, including scents such as perfume and flowers, and unpleasant odours, such as paint thinner and secondhand smoke. Besides, environmental changes like in weather, season, altitude level or barometric pressure and certain medications can also aggravate migraines.
TIME FOR MEDICAL ADVICE?
Despite being a chronic disorder, migraines often remain undiagnosed, and as a result untreated. As soon as a a person witnesses the first symptoms of a severe headache, he or she should track the attacks and contact a doctor. If one has a history of headaches, advice from the doctor becomes even the more compulsory. One should definitely contact a medical practitioner if an abrupt, severe headache like a thunderclap occurs; if headache with fever, stiff neck, rash, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking is there; headache after a head injury persists or a chronic headache that gets worse after coughing, exertion, straining or a sudden movement attacks a person.