Complex in nature, migraines are powerful headaches that can be debilitating when they come on. Currently, the exact cause of migraines remains a mystery.
Two types of Migraine
Experts classify migraines into two different categories: Migraines without aura
are characterized by recurring, severe headaches that can last anywhere from several hours to several days. Patients often complain of sensitivity to light and/or sound, nausea and a throbbing feeling on one side of the head. Migraines with aura
are associated with sensory disturbances that sometimes precede a migraine. Other times, aura can occur during the migraine itself. Aura is most commonly linked to visual symptoms like blurred vision and seeing bright lights or shapes. In some cases, vision is temporarily lost. Since migraines are neurological by nature, they may also momentarily impair speech and language skills. Additionally, some patients report a pins-and-needles feeling in the limbs.
Migraines are intense and can last anywhere from four to 72 hours. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, migraines affect 10 percent of the world’s population and are three times more common in women than men. While migraine symptoms vary from person to person, the following symptoms are most commonly reported:
- An intense, pulsating headache that occurs on either one side of the head or the entire head
- Distorted vision
- Sensory sensitivity, especially to light and sound
Preceding a migraine, some people experience aura. This refers to sensory disturbances many migraine sufferers feel leading up to an attack. This can include blurred vision, loss of vision and tingling of the limbs.
A migraine is a neurological condition with no known cause. Some experts speculate that blood vessel abnormalities
are what trigger migraines. Others say that genetic mutations or a central nervous system disorder might be at play. While researchers continue to explore the possibilities, some factors have been associated with triggering migraines:
- Hormones – this especially applies to women, who are three times more likely to experience migraines than men. Life situations that cause hormonal changes might trigger migraines.
- Physical overexertion
- Foods and chemicals – research has linked processed foods, MSG, caffeine and aspartame to migraines
- Overstimulation of senses
- Disruptions to regular sleep patterns
Some migraine treatments help ease the painful symptoms. Other approaches aim to prevent migraines before they start. Experts say the most common treatments include:
- Pain reducers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- Triptans (drugs that reduce inflammation and narrow blood vessels to ease migraine pain)
- Beta blockers
- Certain herbal remedies, particularly butterbur