Health Talk: Migraines

A dose of ibuprofen and a good night’s sleep are usually good enough to take care of that occasional headache. However, for some, these headaches are not sporadic occurrences. Ibuprofen is usually useless for such people, and they need far more than just one night’s sleep to get rid of that headache: The headache can force them to stay in bed for even two or three days. What such people suffer from are migraines, and these are much worse than normal headaches. reports that migraines affect nearly 28 million Americans, with females being more commonly affected than males. In spite of the large number that is affected, migraines usually go undiagnosed and untreated. Many dismiss the symptoms of migraines as simply headaches, but migraines are far more severe than just headaches. The most common symptoms of migraines include nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and painful throbbing in just one part of the head. Less common symptoms, which occur in about 20 percent of migraine cases, include seeing flashing lights, seeing blank holes in the field of vision, hearing voices, and even hallucinating.

Apart from being extremely painful, the downside of having migraines is that they can last anywhere between four to 72 hours, completely debilitating a person in that period of time. All that a person will feel like doing in this period of time is curling up in a dark room, taking painkillers, and going to sleep.
What’s more, although pain killers may provide temporary relief, taking painkillers for every migraine attack that happens can aggravate the disorder instead of relieving it.

According to a FOX News article, the overuse of painkillers for migraines can, in fact, cause the recurrence of more headaches. Considering the fact that the most common form of relieving a headache is useless against migraines, it is hard not to wonder what makes migraines so different from normal headaches.
Although researchers have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of migraines, the general consensus is that migraines are caused by enlargement of blood vessels in the forehead. This stretches the nerves that coil around the blood vessels and causes them to release a variety of chemicals.

According to, serotonin is a common chemical that is released, and this plays a role in relaying pain-related messages across the brain. Thus, the release of these chemicals causes pain and also further enlargement of the blood vessels, triggering the cycle again.

Migraine attacks also trigger the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with preparing the body for tense or stressful situations. Many of the observed symptoms can be linked to this sympathetic nervous system activation.

Activation of the sympathetic nervous system increases sensitivity to light and also slows down the absorption of food from the stomach into the intestines; this latter effect, in particular, is the reason why oral medications for migraines are usually ineffective. In order to come up with effective treatments for the disorder, scientists have begun examining the genetic links of the disease. According to an article on, scientists from Finland and the U.K. have discovered that genes on chromosome 10q23 could be linked to migraines. This discovery could shed light on the exact causes of migraines and possibly give rise to a better treatment for it.

As of now, the only way to treat migraines is to take medicines that prevent the migraines from occurring. The most effective method to prevent migraines, however, is to stay away from certain migraine “triggers.” A variety of factors can trigger the onset of migraines.
These include lack of sleep or food, stress, excessive physical exertion, and hormonal changes. For some, eating certain foods causes migraines. Different foods give rise to migraines in different people. Foods like alcohol, caffeine, aged cheese, and chocolate can lead to migraines. The best thing to prevent migraines is to lead a healthy lifestyle and stay away from foods that trigger your migraines.