The National Headache Foundation estimates that 28 million Americans suffer from migraines. Women get migraines more than men, 25% of all women with migraines suffer four or more migraine attacks a month; 35% experience one to four severe attacks a month, and 40% experience one or less than one severe attack a month. Each migraine can last from four hours to three days. Periodically, it will last longer.
The specific cause of migraines is unknown, although they are related to changes in the brain as well as to genetic causes. People with migraines may acquire the tendency to be affected by certain migraine triggers, such as fatigue, bright lights, weather changes, and others.
Scientists believed for many years that migraines were linked to expanding and constricting blood vessels on the brain’s surface. However, it is now believed that migraines are caused by inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain.
There is a migraine “pain center” or generator in the brain. A migraine begins when hyperactive nerve cells send out impulses to the blood vessels, causing them to clamp down or constrict, followed by dilation (expanding) and the release of prostaglandins, serotonin, and other inflammatory substances that cause the pulsation to be painful.
- Emotional stress
- Sensitivity to specific chemicals and preservatives in foods
- Changing weather conditions
- Menstrual periods
- Excessive fatigue
- Skipping meals
- Changes in normal sleep pattern
Migraines have a tendency to be hereditary. Four out of five migraine sufferers have a family history of migraines. If one parent has a history of migraines, the child has a 50% chance of developing migraines, and if both parents have a history of migraines, the risk rises to 75%.
The symptoms of migraine headaches can occur in various combinations and include:
- A pounding or throbbing headache that often begins as a dull ache and develops into throbbing pain. The pain is usually aggravated by physical activity. The pain can shift from one side of the head to the other, or it can affect the front of the head or feel like it’s affecting the whole head.
- Sensitivity to light, noise, and odors
- Nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Sensations of being very warm or cold
- Blurred vision
- Fever (rare)