Migraine headaches

What are migraine headaches?

A migraine is a headache of varying intensity, often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

What causes migraine headaches?

Migraine headaches might result from the relationship between the brainstem and trigeminal nerve, which causes a chemical imbalance. Migraines happen when the blood vessels become enlarged, which relieves pain-causing chemicals. An “aura,” or sensory warning, sometimes precedes a migraine attack.

Although the exact cause of migraines is still being researched, it is understood to be a combination of genetics and environment. Low serotonin (a pain management chemical) levels can trigger a migraine by letting too much blood flow through vessels that should be constricted—inducing a throbbing sensation. Low serotonin may also trigger the trigeminal system to release neuropeptides to the brain outer layer, causing pain.

These internal processes do not always occur unprovoked. Stress, bright lights, caffeine, alcohol, and odors are common external migraine triggers. Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from migraines. Estrogen has been found to trigger attacks and increase pain.


Prior to a migraine attack, an aura may alert patients. Visual sensations, such as seeing shapes, have been reported to precede migraines, as well as tingling sensations and speech problems.

During the attack, severe head pain generally occurs on one side of the head, but can be felt on both. Sensitivity to light and odors often induces nausea, which can cause vomiting. Lightheadedness, which can lead to fainting, occurs in some cases. Without treatment, migraine headaches usually last four to 72 hours.


Migraine treatment varies depending on the patient and symptoms. Most migraine specialists try to determine environments to avoid by identifying triggers. For example, those who experience migraines when exposed to bright lights may be instructed to wear protective eyewear in the sun and consciously avoid staring into artificial light. Other common preventive lifestyle changes include avoiding certain odors and beverages or adjusting sleeping conditions.

Treatments (cont.)

These preemptive strategies can help eliminate migraines altogether. Your migraine specialist can prescribe preventative drugs that can also help fight off migraines.

Like many internal ailments, healthy living is one of the most effective treatments. Avoiding too much stress, exercising, and eating properly will reduce the chance of migraines and dismiss the need for more complicated, expensive treatment options.


Various treatments are available for migraine headaches.


Cardiovascular drugs, such as beta-blockers and antidepressants, can prevent attacks. Once migraines hit, there are number of pain management options. Anti-nausea medications, opiates, and pain relievers treat specific symptoms to reduce the discomfort of migraines.

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