Contributed by: Nancy Dixit
Migraine is the most common form of headache, but not all headaches are migraines. Fortunately, migraine and headache symptoms are different.
If you can identify the symptoms associated with migraines and headaches, you can determine if your headache might be a migraine.
In this article, we will be exploring the cause of migraine and the factors that can trigger these headaches.
What is migraine?
The term “migraine” refers to a headache which is usually (but not always) on one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Chronic migraine is defined as having headaches for at least 15 days per month, for at least three months.
It starts as less frequent headache episodes that gradually increase to more frequent episodes.
The pain is moderate or severe and often intense.The pain may be on one side of the head or both.The head pain causes a throbbing, pounding or pulsating sensation.The pain gets worse with physical activity or movement.The patient must have nausea, vomiting, and/or light and sound sensitivity along with head pain.
For some people, a warning symptom known as an aura occurs before or with the headache.
An aura can include visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or blind spots, or other disturbances, such as tingling on one side of the face or in an arm or leg and difficulty speaking.
Did you know approximately 3 per cent of people who have episodic migraine transform into chronic migraine each year?
Causes of migraine
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but they’re thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.
Although it’s not clear what causes this change in brain activity, it’s possible that your genes make you more likely to experience migraines as a result of a specific trigger.
If you have a family history or either of your parents has migraines, you have a 50 to 75% chance of developing migraine.
In order to determine how vulnerable you might be to acquiring hereditary migraine headaches, genetic testing is your best option.
The pain results from signals interacting among your brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. During a headache, specific nerves of the blood vessels are activated and send pain signals to the brain.
There is a migraine “pain centre,” or generator, in the mid-brain area. A migraine begins when overactive nerve cells send out impulses to your blood vessels.
This causes the release of prostaglandins, serotonin, and other substances that cause swelling of the blood vessels in the vicinity of the nerve endings, resulting in pain.
Common chronic migraine triggers
A variety of lifestyle and environmental factors, known as “triggers,” can set off a migraine episode.
These triggers may include hormonal, emotional, physical, dietary, environmental and medicinal factors.
Stress, anxiety, tension, shock, depression, excitement etc. comes under emotional triggers.
Stress is the biggest culprit of all; stress is a trigger for almost 70% of people with migraine.
As per research, 50 to 70% of people had a significant association between their daily stress level and their daily migraine activity.
Relaxation therapy, meditation, exercise, and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule can be extremely helpful in managing stress.
For women, hormonal headaches often occur during periods due to hormonal fluctuations.
Hormone-related headaches may occur from oral contraceptives, menopause or pregnancy as a result of hormonal imbalance.
Even migraine may occur around menstruation due to changes in estrogen levels.
Menstrual headache often develops 2 days before or 3 days after a period or during ovulation.
Many women find their migraines improve after menopause, although menopause can trigger migraines or make them worse in some women.
Changes in or an irregular sleep schedule
There is a close association between irregular sleep and migraine.
Sleep renews and repairs all parts of the body—including the brain. If you don’t get enough rest, or if you wake up often, you may have more headaches and they could get worse.
Caffeine and alcohol
Several lifestyle factors, including alcohol intake, coffee consumption, and smoking, have been considered migraine risk factors.
This is because caffeine narrows the blood vessels that surround the brain, when consumption is stopped, the blood vessels enlarge.
This causes an increase in blood flow around the brain and pressures surrounding nerves. This can then trigger what is known as a caffeine withdrawal headache.
Did you know for about one-third of people who have migraines, alcohol is also a trigger?
Dehydration or insufficient fluid intake can trigger a migraine headache. Some people are much more prone than others to headaches related to dehydration.
However, it can be avoided by making sure they drink enough fluids daily.
If you get migraines, it’s essential to drink plenty of water. Staying hydrated may help you prevent a migraine attack.
Note: Keep in mind that a migraine attack or any other type of headache can be prolonged if you are not adequately hydrated.
Migraine headaches are the absolute worst but the only real way to get rid of the pain is knowing which type of headache you’re dealing with.
If you deal with frequent or occasional migraines, it’s important to understand your personal migraine triggers and do your best to avoid them.
Tip: Avoid unnecessary use of painkillers, without consulting a general physician, until the root cause of the headache is diagnosed.
Migraines have a tendency to run in families, especially migraines. In fact, kids whose parents have migraines are up to four times more likely to develop them too.
As an add-on, make a habit of taking preventive health checkups as they can help you in getting a complete insight into your health.
This will also help you with taking measures to promote your overall well-being.