Migraines are very severe headaches which usually starts on one side of the head, often behind an eye and can spread to the rest of the head. Sufferers may also experience an ‘aura’ which are warning signs that a migraine is coming. They can include visual disturbances such as blurred vision or flashing lights, auditory hallucinations, the perception of a strange smell, numbness and tingling. Other symptoms often include nausea and vomiting and an extreme sensitivity and aversion to bright lights and loud noises.
The pain can be described as throbbing, pulsing or constrictive pressure and is usually made worse by movement, exercise, reading, watching television or computer screens and normal daily activities. Resting in a quiet, dark, cool room is often beneficial.
Migraines affect around 1 in 10 people, however, they are around 2-3 times more common in women than men.
The cause of migraines has not yet been determined, although progress has been made in understanding them. Studies have indicated that migraines are caused by pressure against the skull when blood vessels dilate in the scalp and tissues surrounding the brain, causing an increase in blood flow to the brain. It has been hypothesized that this can be as a result of low blood sugar and is a compensatory mechanism to deliver more sugar to the brain. Other research has found that changes in brain activity and neurochemicals are also involved.
Certain events or foods can trigger migraines, although finding out which specific triggers affect an individual can be a difficult task. Keeping a ‘migraine diary’ can help to narrow down the likely suspects.
Common triggers include:
- alcohol, particularly red wine
- food additives
- flickering lights from a TV or computer screen
- bright light, particularly glare
- prolonged exposure to loud noises
- an excessively hot environment
- fumes such as from petroleum products or synthetic perfumes
- chemicals, such as in cleaning products, perfumes and fuels
- hormonal changes, particularly for women such as at a particular time during the menstrual cycle or during menopause, and as a result of taking prescribed hormones
- emotions, such as stress, fatigue, anxiety or even excitement and anticipation
- after a stressful period, when relaxing a migraine can sometimes occur.
Some studies have found that folate, B6 and B12 supplementation can reduce the severity and frequency of migraines, as can magnesium.
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