What causes migraine?

Finding out what causes migraine cane be a very difficult task, as as well as being an extremely debilitating complaint, migraines can be extremely complex.


What is a migraine?

Sometimes it is hard to discern from an ordinary headache.

What causes migraine is generally caused by vascular disturbance.

As a sufferer, I am sure you will recognise the early warning signs that signal its arrival. These signals vary very much from person to person but they could be anything from flashes of light and blind spots to tingling in the arms and legs. Perhaps you refer to these as auras of pain?

These early premonitions of - known as prodrome - not only some drive people to have tremendous thirst or have cravings for sweets, but can also mean they suffer from terribly from malaise, irritability or even depression for a few days before an attack.

To make it even more confusing these could equally manifest themselves as becoming completely elated or even having incredible energy before your attack.

So this can really be quite a strange red herring. Not very helpful for isolating what causes migraine on each occassion to be honest!

Most attacks are accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.

A single attack can last anything from a couple of hours to even days.


Well that's a little clearer.

Let's investigate it a little further, though.

What are the symptoms of migraine?

Strangely the symptoms can often begin a while before your headache starts, and can continue well after it has ended.

The headache itself will tend to be localised to just one side of your head and also one particular place that you can even pretty much put your finger on - kind of like a nut of pain.

This can be extremely painful in some attacks. When this happens to me, I feel like I need to close one eye all the time just to try to ease the pain.

It can often feel much worse if you do anything physical or strenuous and often the only way to deal with it is to lie down and be still. In fact in can be very difficult for you to do even the most mundane of things.

Nausea and vomiting definitely will be part of it.

The chances are too, that you will become much more sensitive to sights and sounds around you. I would also add that smells make me feel much more nauseous too. Again, another reason for climbing under the duvet and turning the light off.

It is important to add that the symptoms of this condition do eventually disappear completely between attacks.

So what causes migraine?

Well, let’s first look at the physiology of what happens in the body during an attack.

The headache itself results from blood vessels becoming enlarged which leads to the release of chemicals from nerve fibres that wraps around and strangles these blood vessels. During your headache, an artery becomes engorged. This is located on the outside of the skull just under the skin of your temple it's known as the temporal artery. There is then a tremendous surge in chemical levels and this is what causes migraine pain, but worse still, further enlargement of your artery.

As your headache starts to take hold, your sympathetic nervous system responds with feelings of nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting. Each time your stomach empties, it means that you cannot absorbs food properly and you then start to have a decrease in blood circulation (leading to cold hands and feet), and this is also what causes migraine sensitivity to light and sound.

Ladies, could your headache be related to your menstrual cycle perhaps?

For some women, attacks occur during or just before their periods. Research now has shown that it is actually the fall in the level of oestrogen from one level to another that is the trigger to their suffering. This fall happens naturally before menstruation.

To define menstrual migraine, your symptoms must fall into the following criteria

*the attack starts anytime from two days before, to three days after the first day of a period.

*an attack occurs around most (or all) periods.

There are two types of patterns which it can follow:

* menstrual migraine: when attacks happen only around periods, and not at other times.

This occurs in about 1 in 7 women who suffer from the disorder.

* Menstrual-associated migraine is when attacks happen around your periods, but may also happen at other times too.

About 6 in 10 women who have migraine have this type of pattern. One way to get rid of the problem, if it is menstrual related, is to get pregnant (although this may seem a little bit drastic!)

Because there is a constant high level of oestrogen, so symptoms tend to subside.

During the run up to menopause when the levels of oestrogen are up and down all the time, this can what causes migraine symptoms to worsen. These tend to subside once past the menopause and the level becomes a stable low level.

Another common trigger is the combined contraceptive pill. During the withdrawal week, there is again this fall in oestrogen that can cause problems.

How is migraine diagnosed?
And what migraine help is available?

This is a difficult one since there is so far not a definitive test. Consequently the only tool that your doctor will have is to look at the trends of your headaches.

To diagnose that you are indeed a definate sufferer you must:

**Show that you have had 5 or more attacks

**Attacks have lasted for more than 4 hours.

In the case of menstrual related, of course it may be that an attack can just happen on the day that you are having a period and may not be related to your cycle at all.

The only real way to get a handle on what causes migraine in your particular case is to fill in a Symptoms Diary.

Let's move on to investigate if you can do anything about finding out if what causes migraine could have anything to do with your diet.


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