Chronic migraines can be an excruciating, debilitating disorder. Millions are affected, and the attacks go far beyond the intense headaches so many associated with being the only symptom of a migraine. A migraine causes extreme sensitivity to light, sound, smell and touch. Sufferers may experience nausea, weakness, fainting, hallucinations and visual impairment.
For many these symptoms occur multiple times a month, greatly impacting their quality of life. Advances in medicine, though, are providing migraine sufferers with merciful relief and restoration of normal living.
What causes migraines?
This varies from sufferer to sufferer but the origin of these excruciating attacks is the same for all who have ever experienced one of these horrific headache ordeals. The causes of migraine headaches begin in the brain. Here, blood vessels enlarge and nerve fibers around these blood vessels release chemicals. As the attack continues, an artery located just below the surface of the temple, on the outside of the skull, enlarges, releasing even more of the chemicals that cause inflammation and pain. This then causes even further enlargement of the artery. A migraine attack does not just affect the head, however.
This type of headache affects the sympathetic nervous system which triggers the body to respond with the unpleasant other symptoms of a migraine attack. Vomiting, diarrhea and sensitivity to light and sound are all common in migraine attacks. These attacks also limit the body's ability to absorb food which can quickly lead to malnourishment, weakness and dehydration, all very dangerous conditions. If left unattended, these symptoms can become severe very quickly.
Know Your Triggers
Causes of migraines are known as “triggers”. These vary widely depending on the sufferer and what affects one person severely could have little to no impact on another.
Some of these triggers are physical or emotional such as stress, sleep deprivation, hormonal changes due to menstrual cycle or pregnancy and physical exertion. Others are physiological such as not eating enough, dehydration, alcohol consumption, smoking, overstimulation of the senses, especially with bright light or strong smells, and allergies.
Consumption of certain foods and food groups are linked to migraine attacks as well. These foods include those containing tyramine, a compound found in aged cheeses, wine, smoked fish and some beans, MSG and nitrates, such as deli meats. Other foods that should be avoided by those sensitive to migraine attacks are chocolate, peanut butter, bananas, avocados and pickles. There is no real explanation as to why some of these foods tend to trigger attacks, but others are related to the food's effect on the blood vessels of the brain.