A migraine headache is a primary headache disorder. It is a headache that tends to recur in an individual and is moderate to severe if left untreated. It can be one sided, throbbing and aggravated by routine physical activity. It can be associated with light and sound and even smell sensitivity and many patients will become nauseated with it. In a minority of patients there can be visual or sensory changes before, during or after the headache, known as auras. Migraines occur about three times more frequently in women than in men. Each migraine can last from four hours to three days. Occasionally, it will last longer.
The exact causes of migraines are unknown, although they are related to changes in the brain as well as to genetic causes. People with migraines may inherit the tendency to be affected by certain migraine triggers, such as fatigue, bright lights, weather changes and others.
Many migraines seem to be triggered by external factors. Migraine sufferers can help the physician identify these triggers. Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers of migraine headache. Migraine sufferers generally are highly affected by stressful events. Repressed emotions surrounding stress, such as anxiety, worry, excitement and fatigue can increase muscle tension and dilated blood vessels can intensify the severity of migraine.
Certain foods and beverages, such as aged cheese, alcoholic beverages, and food additives such as nitrates (in pepperoni, hot dogs, luncheon meats) and monosodium glutamate (MSG, commonly found in Chinese food) may be responsible for triggering up to 30% of migraines.
Excessive caffeine consumption or withdrawal from caffeine can cause headaches when the caffeine level abruptly drops. Caffeine itself is often helpful in treating acute migraine attacks.
Other trigger factors include: changing weather conditions; menstrual periods; tension; excessive fatigue; missing meals; changes in normal sleep pattern. Migraines have a tendency to run in families. Associated symptoms include: sensitivity to light, noise and odors; nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain; loss of appetite; pallor; fatigue; dizziness; blurred vision.