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Migraine Headaches HOL-emblem1-web.GIF (3556 bytes)

We do not know for sure how migraines originate. There are several theories. It appears that, with the modern imaging techniques, we are making headway in understanding the mechanism of formation of migraine.

Instability of the vascular system

One of these theories suggests that certain arteries in our brain contract and cause a reduction blood flow to the visual area of our brain. It is suggested that this reduction of blood flow results in the visual and other symptoms that accompany a migraine.

Then, when blood vessels expand and put pressure on the nerves in the artery wall, there is pain. The underlying causes of these contractions and dilations of the cortroid arteries are more obscure. Susceptibility tends to run in families and affects more women than men.

Migraine patients are more prone to fainting when standing up suddenly than other people, and they are also more sensitive than other people to the vasodilatory effects of physical and chemical agents.

Magnesium Deficiency

Another theory proposes that nerve cells in the brain begin to lose function which causes a reduction in blood flow, which reduces levels of magnesium, which in turn adds to decreasing nerve cell function and that this dysfunction spreads in a wave like fashion to all effected areas.

Blood platelet disorder

Blood platelet disorder has also been implicated, with the platelets of migraine sufferers aggregating more readily than normal platelets in response to neurotransmitters such as serotonin and adrenaline, the "stress" hormone.

Serotonin

Many researchers feel that serotonin, an important brain chemical may fuel migraines. Platelets (components of our blood) contain all of the serotonin normally present in blood, and, after they aggregate, (clump together) serotonin is released, resulting in a potent constricting effect on the arteries.

You can trigger a release of serotonin by eating certain foods, drinking certain beverages, stressing out or sometimes just oversleeping. When this happens, the blood vessels in your head narrow. As your kidneys process the serotonin and the level of this hormonelike substance drops, the vessels dilate rapidly, pressing on surrounding nerves and causing pain and inflammation. The ache can last for hours or days because the swelling lingers after the blood vessels return to normal.

The nervous system Disorders

The nervous system itself may also be implicated, as it releases specific neurotransmitters, possibly in response to chronic stress.

Food

Certain foods contain chemicals-amines-that dilate the blood vessels, causing a rebound vasodilation and may thus precipitate an attack.

Other people are sensitive to foods containing MSG, the flavor enhancer, or nitrates, which are commonly found in bacon, hot dogs, and other preserved meats.

Some people are sensitive to artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, which is found in Nutrasweet.

Food Allergy

You may allergic or sensitive to certain foods. And this can start a migraine. (See: Foods That May Cause Migraine Sensitivity).

Food allergy has also been implicated as an important factor in migraine. In one study, 60 patients who had been suffering from frequent migraines for a mean duration of about 20 years followed an exclusion diet for five days. During that time, only two low-risk foods (usually lamb and pears) and spring water were consumed. Migraines disappeared in most cases by the fifth day. Each patient then tested one to three common foods per day, looking for reactions. The mean number of foods causing symptoms was 10 per patient (range, 1 to 30). The foods most frequently causing symptoms and/or pulse changes were wheat (78%), orange (65%), egg (45%), tea and coffee (40% each), chocolate and milk (37% each), beef (35%), corn, cane sugar and yeast (33% each), mushrooms (30%), and peas (28%). When the offending foods were avoided, all patients improved. The number of headaches in the group fell from 402 to 6 per month, with 85% of the patients becoming headache free. This study provides strong evidence that identification and avoidance of allergy causing foods is an effective procedure for a large proportion of patients with chronic recurrent migraines.

Low Blood Sugar or Hypoglycemia

For most people, low blood sugar caused by fasting or irregular meals often brings on a headache; but it quickly disappears following a meal. But for people prone to migraines, the low blood sugar may start off a chain reaction that a belated meal will not stop.

In one study, a five-hour glucose tolerance test was performed on 74 patients who experienced migraines in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Six patients (8%) were classified as diabetic and 56 (76%) had a pattern consistent with reactive hypoglycemia (a large drop in blood sugar after a meal). Following dietary therapy with a low-sucrose, six-meal regimen, all patients with a diabetic glucose curve and 56% of those with reactive hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) had an improvement of greater than 75% in the frequency and severity of migraines.

Balanced meals eaten on a regular schedule are a must for those suffering from migraines. Many migraine sufferers find that they must eat something every few hours to prevent headaches. Chromium can help stabilize the blood sugar.

Foods Containing Tyramine

Foods containing tyramine, in particular, are known to trigger attacks. A small proportion of migraine patients will react to tyramine, a chemical found in aged cheese, yogurt, beer, wine, liver, yeast and certain other foods.

See: Foods That May Cause Migraine Sensitivity

In these patients, avoidance of tyramine-containing foods will often prevent recurrences of migraine.

Estrogen Level Fluctuation in Women

Women suffer from migraines much more frequently than men. Recent research has pointed to fluctuating levels of estrogen as a factor in their development. For these women, headaches can disappear during pregnancy, when estrogen levels are constant. If you get a headache every month just before your period, it could be because your blood-sugar levels are dropping. Take chromium as supplement to remedy this. Muscle cramping can also contribute to period-related headaches. Calcium and evening primrose oil are helpful. Menopause can bring complete relief from headaches, or, for some women, make them worse. Birth control pills affect migraines as well.

Many women find that certain stimulants such as alcohol which have no effect on them regularly can trigger an attack if they're consumed just before a menstrual period or at the time of ovulation. If you are a menstruating woman who suffers from migraines, be sure to make note of your menstrual cycle on your headache diary. Check to see if headaches occur just before you begin to menstruate or when you ovulate, and note any triggers during those times. If you are a postmenopausal women on estrogen therapy, you may find that a change in your hormone treatment will help your headaches. Discuss this with your doctor.

Stress, Anxiety and Excitement

Stress, anxiety, and excitement promote the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, which can provoke a migraine attack. While it may be difficult to avoid stress, it can be alleviated through exercise. One researcher reported that several of his patients became migraine-free after jogging 7 to 9 miles a day, at a speed of seven to nine minutes per mile. Of course jogging is not suitable for everyone, but even moderate exercise can relieve tension and stress. Adopt a regular exercise program even if it's just a brisk half-hour walk four or five days a week.

Other Factors

Other factors that have been known to precipitate migraines are:
bulletChanges in routine, such as late rising on a holiday or change of working hours;
bulletChanges in climate, high winds, loud or high-pitched sounds;
bulletBright sunlight and bright artificial light, such as fluorescent; and
bulletProlonged staring at television, movie, or computer screens.

Weather

Canadian researchers say warm winds may trigger migraines. The report appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of the scientific journal Neurology. Dr. Wernher Becker and a team of scientists at the University of Calgary studied the effects of warm westerly winds called "chinooks" on 75 migraine patients. Nearly half of the sufferers appeared to be affected by a change in the weather with the arrival of the chinook.

Older patients were the most susceptible. Some patients were more likely to get migraines during the days before the front moved through. Others suffered worst on days when wind speeds reached more than 24 mph.

Factors In Combination

Identifying the factor responsible for your migraine may be complicated by the fact that there may be more than one. For instance, skipping breakfast may not affect you most days, but it may trigger a headache if you are also tired and under stress. Getting up unusually early may normally be no problem, but if you rise before dawn on the day before your period, it may plunge you into a migraine. Keeping a diary of activities, including what and when you eat, is really the best way to pinpoint the causes of your migraines.

Other Triggers for Migraine

Triggers for migraines are highly individual but strong emotions of anger, excitement or anxiety are common. Whiplash, sleep deprivation, jet lag, oversleeping, excessive smoking and strong odors like perfumes and tobacco can also cause migraine.

An iron deficiency often causes migraine headaches due to insufficient oxygenation of the brain. Less common and controversial migraine triggers include spinal misalignments (correctable by osteopathic or chiropractic adjustments), temperomandibularjaw (TMJ) syndrome and toxic heavy metal hypersensitivity, such as from mercury dental fillings.

Related Topic: How To Determine Your Migraine Trigger?

                      Foods That May Cause Migraine Sensitivity

Next Topic: Signs And Symptoms of Migraine

                Treatment of Migraine

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