Migraines are an extremely painful, debilitating condition that many people suffer from. However, they remain partly a mystery since we have not been able to definitively learn a lot about them, their causes and the best course of treatment for them. Yet, even with so much still unknown, there are a number of things we have been able to figure out about them. This is promising for those who experience these agonizing headaches.
For one, the symptoms of a migraine are well documents. Migraine headaches are extremely painful and include a variety of other symptoms on top of the headache itself. These symptoms include nausea, vomiting, vision changes and increased sensitivity (to light, sound and smell). Depending on your type of migraine, the headache could occur sporadically and last 1-2 days or it can occur more than 15 days per month.
Even without definitive proof, many suspected causes of migraines have been identified by researchers. These causes include:
- Chemical imbalance – multiple brain chemicals and nerve pathways are engaged during a migraine, leading some to belief an defect in one of these may cause migraines
- Irregularity in the blood vessel system of the brain
- Having a family history of migraines greatly increases the chances you will experience one, leading researchers to believe a certain (unknown) gene may be causing them
- Central nervous system disorder
While the causes of migraines are all still theoretical, researchers have been able to definitively identify multiple migraine triggers. These triggers are known for bringing on a migraine. By identifying migraine triggers, patients are able to avoid them in order to prevent future migraines. Triggers can be different for each patients and it is not uncommon for each patient to have multiple triggers. Some of the more common triggers are:
- Sensory stimulation, especially loud noises, bright lights or strong scents
- Preservatives or sweeteners, especially aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Food, especially salty or aged foods as well as processed foods
- Skipping meals or fasting, which migraine sufferers should never do unless under a doctor’s supervision
- Alcoholic or caffeinated beverages
- Hormonal changes, especially in women when they experience fluctuating levels of estrogen (mainly during a period, pregnancy or menopause)
- Hormonal medications
- Medications, especially vasodilators
- Physical exertion
- Sleep changes, either too little sleep or too much
- Weather changes, especially shifts in barometric pressure
There are additional factors that are directly linked to an increased likelihood of migraines. These are:
- Age – While migraines can first appear at any age, they usually begin during adolescence. The Mayo Clinic has reported that people rarely experience their first migraine after 40 years of age.
- Gender – Boys are more likely to experience a migraine during childhood. However, as adults 70% of migraine sufferers are women.
- Genetics – Your family history has a huge impact of your likelihood to have migraines. In fact, almost 90% of all migraine sufferers have a family history of migraines. The best indication is your parents, if one or both of them experience migraines, you are much more likely to as well.