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What is a migraine?

Published On: May 13 2011 12:31:11 PM CDT
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A migraine is not a headache at all, but a set of neurological symptoms, one of which is head pain.

Migraines are misunderstood; they are a silent disease with no visible symptoms. Without any outward sign of pain, most people write off migraines as simply a bad headache.

Migraine pain is caused by the vasodilatation of the blood vessels covering the brain. The tissues surrounding the blood vessels become inflamed which increases the pain. Other symptoms of a migraine include nausea, vomiting, light and sound sensitivity, numbness of the extremities or face and speech difficulties.

Migraine is a genetic disorder, passed down through family lines.

Migraines occur when an individual encounters a trigger, an environmental or food substance that aggravates the sensitive nerve and chemical system of the brain. Triggers can include weather changes, red wine, cigarette smoke, mono-sodium glutamate (MSG), cheese, menstrual cycle and aspartame. Migrainuers, as they are sometimes called, can keep a detailed daily diary to try and recognize triggers and patterns.

There are two main factors involved in triggering a migraine. They are the trigeminal nerve the brain chemical serotonin.

When the trigeminal nerve is triggered, or excited, pain and inflammation that leads to the pain begins. Treating the migraine at this stage with medications, called triptans, usually aborts the migraine in its earliest stages.

Triptans act as a vasoconstrictor, bringing down the swelling in the inflamed blood vessels. Triptans also supply more serotonin to the brain to help with the narrowing of the blood vessels and to block pain transmission to the brain's nerves.

If a migraine is left untreated, the central nervous system kicks in causing the migraine to become resistant to most abortive medications.

Migraines can last anywhere from four to 72 hours or more. Once a person has a migraine for more than 72 hours, they go into status migrainous, a potentially life threatening situation where the migraine must be aborted as soon as possible.

The risk for stroke rises after a prolonged migraine episode. Getting emergency treatment may greatly reduce this risk.

A migraine is not psychologically based; depressed persons are not prone to migraine, in fact, migraine can predispose a person to depression.

A migraine is not stress. Stress can be an exacerbating factor, when other triggers are present.

A migraine is not the brain swelling or blood thickening in the brain, causing the brain to press against the skull.

A migraine is a true biological disorder that, while invisible, and should be treated by a migraine specialist with the appropriate medication.

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