11 Facts About Migraines

Unless you suffer from migraines yourself, you may think that having a migraine means having a really bad headache. But debilitating head pain is only one part of the medical condition called migraine disorder. Common symptoms are nausea, dizziness, fatigue, sensitivity to light and sound, and even temporary blindness, and temporary limb weakness.

The symptoms and causes of migraine vary from patient to patient, and researchers are only now beginning to understand the complexciteis of this condition.

Here are some facts we know about migraine disorder.

1. Physiology/Causes:

what happens to your brain when you have migraine

While there are no definite answers as to the causes of migraine, health care professionals are gaining an understanding of what happens when a migraine attack is in progress. It is thought a migraine attack is triggered within the brain itself. Once an attack begins, it is thought the pain and other symptoms of migraine arise from an inflammatory process resulting from an interaction between the trigeminal nerve and blood vessels in the coverings of the brain. Serotonin (or 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT), a naturally occurring chemical in the brain, has been implicated in this inflammatory process.

Practically anything may trigger a migraine, and triggers are not the same for everyone. In fact, what causes a migraine in one person may relieve it in another. Triggers may include one or more of the following categories:

  • Diet (e.g. cheese, red wine)
  • Activity (e.g. irregular exercise, too much exercise, lack of / or too much sleep)
  • Environment (e.g. bright lights, smoke, weather changes)
  • Hormones (e.g., menstrual cycle, oral contraceptives)
  • Emotions (e.g. stress, anxiety)
  • Medications (e.g. overuse of over-the- counter analgesics/pain relievers & prescription)

How about your body? What happens to your body when you have migraine, learn more here.



2. Migraine is Linked to Depression:

migraine is linked to depression

In the U.S., up to 40 percent of people with migraine also have depression. Risk of anxiety, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder are also higher in migraine sufferers. Researchers are still figuring out the connections between mental illness and migraine. While the anticipation of painful symptoms can cause depression and anxiety in some people, experts believe that mental illness is often more than just an effect of living with migraine. The production of the brain chemical serotonin is involved in both migraine and depression. That’s why tricyclic antidepressants designed to increase serotonin levels are sometimes prescribed to treat migraine.

2. Genetic Link:

migraine is proven to be linked to genetic

Migraine runs in families, as 70 percent of sufferers are found to have a hereditary influence. In fact, a child has a 50 percent chance of becoming a sufferer if one parent suffers and a 75 percent chance if both parents suffer. (Source: National Headache Foundation)

4. Many Veterans Return Home With migraines:

Many Veterans Return Home With migraines

Genetics isn’t the only factor that contributes to someone’s chance of having migraine disorder. One study found that after a 12-month deployment in Iraq, 36 percent of veterans exhibited symptoms of migraine. The cause often stems from head or neck trauma sustained from explosions, falls, or other accidents during their service. While post-traumatic migraine goes away in most patients within a few months, in some cases it can develop into a chronic condition.

5. Are there different kinds of migraines?

Yes, there are many forms of migraine. The two forms seen most often are migraine with aura and migraine without aura.

Migraine with aura (previously called classical migraine). 

With a migraine with aura, a person might have these sensory symptoms (the so-called "aura") 10 to 30 minutes before an attack:

  • Seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots
  • Numbness or tingling in the face or hands
  • Disturbed sense of smell, taste, or touch
  • Feeling mentally "fuzzy"

Only one in five people who get migraine experience an aura. Women have this form of migraine less often than men.

Migraine without aura (previously called common migraine). With this form of migraine, a person does not have an aura but has all the other features of an attack.

6. Women Can Suffer Migraines More Than Men

Women Can Suffer Migraines More Than Men

Of the one billion people on Earth who have migraine disorder, three-fourths are women. Medical experts suspect this has to do with the cyclical nature of female hormones. According to research presented earlier in 2018, NHE1, the protein that regulates the transfer of protons and sodium ions across cell membranes, is a crucial component of migraine headaches. NHE1 production likely fluctuates a lot more in women than in men. When scientists looked at the brains of lab rats, they found that NHE1 levels were lowest when estrogen was at its peak. In general, female rats also had four times the amount of NHE1 in their brains as males. If the same holds true for people, that could explain why women are not only more likely to suffer migraines in the first place, but why they experience them more frequently and more intensely, and have more difficulty responding to treatment.

7. Frequency/Duration:

Migraine is a chronic, recurrent condition. Typically, sufferers experience an average of one attack per month, which can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours.

8. What Tests Are Used to find out if I have a migraine?

If you think you get migraine headaches, talk with your doctor. Before your appointment, it will be very helpful to write down the following for your healthcare practitioner.

  1. How often you have headaches
  2. Where the pain is
  3. How long the headaches last
  4. When the headaches happen, such as during your period
  5. Other symptoms, such as nausea or blind spots
  6. Any family history of migraine
  7. All the medicines that you are taking for all your medical conditions, even the over-the-counter medicines (better still, bring the medicines in their containers to the doctor)
  8. All the medicines you have taken in the past that you can recall and, if possible, the doses you took and any side effects you had

Your doctor may also do an exam and ask more questions about your health history. This could include past head injury and sinus or dental problems. Your doctor will need to diagnose migraine from the information you provide, as there is no actual diagnostic test for Migraine.

You may get a blood test or other tests, such as CT scan or MRI, if your doctor thinks that something else is causing your headaches. Work with your doctor to decide on the best tests for you.

9. It´s the Third Most Common Disease in the World. Are there different kinds of migraines?

migraine is the Third Most Common Disease in the World

Even if you don’t suffer from migraine, chances are you know someone who does: The disorder affects 14.7 percent of the population, or one in seven people, around the world. In the U.S. alone, roughly 39 million people are affected by the condition. Chronic migraine (experiencing at least 15 headache days per month over a three-month period, with over half being migraines) is more rare, impacting about 2 percent of the world population.

10. Important Migraine Statistics at a Glance

  • Around a billion people in the world suffer from migraines.
  • There are 39 million migraine sufferers in the US alone.
  • About 10% of school-aged children suffer from migraines.
  • In the US, there’s just one headache specialist for every 90,000 patients.
  • Changes in one’s surrounding climate can trigger migraines in 50% of patients.
  • 60% of migraine patients improve after therapeutic intervention.
  • Over 50% of migraine sufferers never consult with a doctor.
  • The ratio of prevalence in women vs. men is 3:1.
  • Exercising can help prevent and reduce the chance of a migraine.

11. What Should You Do When a Migraine Begins?

Work with your doctor to come up with a plan for managing your migraines. Keeping a list of home treatment methods that have worked for you in the past also can help. When symptoms begin:

  • If you take migraine medicine, take it right away.
  • Drink fluids, if you don't have nausea during your migraine.
  • Lie down and rest in a dark, quiet room, if that is practical.

Some people find the following useful:

  • A cold cloth on your head
  • Rubbing or applying pressure to the spot where you feel pain
  • Massage or other relaxation exercises

Here are some extra information about migraine home remedies that could be helpful to you.

 Compiled using information from the following sources: