What causes a migraine?

Migraines can be a highly frustrating, painful, and debilitating condition. If you suffer from any form of migraine, you will know this to be true. 

But what is a migraine? What causes it, and how can you prevent and treat it? In this article, we explore what causes the classic migraine, the physiological expressions of it and the treatments available.

Well, we don’t really know exactly. Scientists and experts have done a lot of research but have been unable to uncover the single root cause of migraines. There are many theories as to why some people experience migraines, and the two most popular ideas are:

  • Spasms in the blood vessels, which sit in the retina of one’s eye and 
  • Cortical Spreading Depression, which is characterized as a “wave of sustained depolarization (neuronal inactivation) moving through intact brain tissue. 

Other theories on the causes of migraines include:

  • Genetics (a history of migraines in the family)
  • A central nervous system disorder
  • Chemical imbalances (serotonin, endorphins, etc.)
  • Hormonal imbalances (most commonly with women during adolescence and menopause)
  • Environmental factors (weather, foods, lighting, sounds, etc.)

More research is being conducted on migraines, and a growing body of evidence supports the assumption that the root cause lies in the possible changes in the brainstem and its interaction with the trigeminal nerve. In fact, the trigeminal nerve is a major pain pathway to the brain. 

What is a migraine headache?

Woman and Migraine

A migraine headache does not feel like a typical headache, and it’s essential to understand the difference. Knowing which is which allows you to get the best and quickest treatment possible. 

Type of Headaches

Your typical everyday headache can be broken up into different types of headaches. Some are very mild in their level of pain, while others are more severe. A headache can last anywhere from 30 minutes and if you’re unlucky, up to an entire week.

The most common headache is a tension headache, which is mild in pain and most likely caused by stress, anxiety, muscle strain, dehydration, or lack of sleep. Other common headaches include:

  • Cluster Headaches are severely painful and usually occur on one side of the head and experienced in clusters (on and off). 
  • Sinus Headaches are not to be confused with a migraine. This type of a headache is induced by a mucus congestion brought on by a sinus infection, and symptoms include cough, stuffy nose, and a fever.
  • Chiari Headaches are caused by a birth defect that pushes the brain up against the skull, causing severe pain in the back of the head. 
  • Thunderclap Headaches are characterized by an extremely severe headache that emerges quickly and out of nowhere and is usually caused by serious conditions such as a brain hemorrhage, stroke, or aneurysm. If you experience a thunderclap headache, call for an ambulance immediately. 

Types of Migraines

Migraines also vary from mild to severe, and the symptoms can be very different from those of a traditional headache.

  • Ocular Migraine is a migraine that causes disturbances to the visual field, including auras, blind spots, zigzags, and star-like images. It is not considered to be a serious condition and is usually painless.
  • Hemiplegic Migraine is a migraine characterized by motor weakness and possible episodes of paralysis. 
  • Basilar Migraine is a migraine that induces feelings of vertigo, imbalance, and/or tinnitus. 
  • Vestibular Migraine brings about extreme sensitivity to motion, dizziness, and sometimes severe vertigo.

Other common migraines include menstrual, abdominal, and chronic. 

What does a migraine feel like?

Different types of migraines generate diverse experiences and pain levels. Typically, migraines feel like someone is pushing on your head with lots of pressure or sensitivity to stimulation and nausea.

A migraine will often involve a feeling of pulsation that shifts from the front of your head to the back in a pattern of a continuous wave. This can truly feel very uncomfortable. 

More severe migraines, such as the Basilar and Vestibular migraines, can result in extreme episodes of dizziness, vertigo, motion sickness, and imbalance. They can cause the individual to feel very nauseous and even lead to vomiting. 

Symptoms of migraines

Here is a list of the most common symptoms of migraines:

  • Intense headache on one side of the head
  • Moderate to severe pain, including pulsation
  • Pain in the neck and face
  • Feeling nauseous 
  • Vomiting 
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Sweating
  • Poor focus
  • Feeling very hot or very cold
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

More severe symptoms include:

  • Motion weakness
  • Motion sickness
  • Vertigo
  • Imbalance
  • Temporary paralysis

Migraine pain

Some migraines can cause mild to severe pain, while others are entirely painless, including ocular migraines. Typical pain associated with some migraines include:

  • Throbbing
  • Pulsating
  • Perforating
  • Pounding
  • Debilitating

Others who suffer from migraines also report their pain as being long and dull with aches. Pain is usually felt at the front of the head and just on one side. However, in some cases, pain can affect both sides. 

Migraine nausea

Nausea is a horrible experience for an individual. It can make you feel sick, dizzy, sensitive, and confused all at the same time. Over 50% of those who suffer from migraines experience feelings of nausea and sickness. 

Most people vomit from time to time, and some might say the nausea is more of an issue than the head pains or visual aura. 

What causes migraines in females?

Migraine Attack

Women experience migraines much more often than men. This is thought to be because of hormonal imbalances in the body. Migraines are especially prevalent in women during adolescence and menopause.

Women may also experience migraines when taking medication that interferes with hormones, such as birth control pills. Other causes of migraines in women include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Skipped meals
  • Red wine
  • Sleeping pills

Why do women have more headaches than men?

The hormone estrogen is one of the leading causes of migraines in women. Fluctuating estrogen levels have been shown to increase the likelihood of both headaches and migraines.

Estrogen controls many of the chemicals released in the female body and any imbalances of the hormone can cause the sensation of pain in the head. 

The usual times when women are most likely to experience headaches and migraines include:

  • Before and during menstruation
  • During pregnancy
  • After giving birth
  • During perimenopause and menopause
  • When taking certain oral contraceptives

How does a migraine impact men?

Physical exertion is the main trigger for migraines in men. Other triggers are similar to those of women and include stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, dehydration, and low blood sugar levels.

Men who experience regular migraines should consult a doctor, as there are links between migraines and heart disease

When should you be concerned about migraines?

Migraines are often debilitating, and you should seek professional attention if they occur often. The red flags for migraines are:

  • Significant changes in the symptomatology of your migraine
  • Migraines that first appear after the age of 50
  • Extremely sudden and severely painful migraines
  • Pain that gets worse as you move your head or breathe
  • A migraine that gets steadily worse and persists for much longer than usual
  • Apparent changes in your personality and cognitive function
  • Migraines that come with a stiff neck, fever, confusion, weakness, slurred speech, or numbness
  • Painful red eyes
  • Severe pain around the temples

How are migraines diagnosed?

When you see a doctor about migraines, he or she will typically use a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that the professional will first check that the symptoms are not caused by other more severe health issues.

Health professionals have many ways to diagnose migraines. IThe process can become complicated, since the true cause of migraines is uncertain, and there are many common symptoms associated with other health issues.

A diagnosis for migraines will typically focus on the different types of migraines and their symptoms. You will likely go through the process of elimination until a decision is made about what kind of migraine you are experiencing and what lifestyle steps you need to take to alleviate it.

Your doctor may run several tests to further help him or her decide which type of migraine is inflicting you. 

Can migraines be prevented or avoided?

If you suffer from migraines regularly, you should record each episode and note down everything you did before the migraine. Where were you? What food did you eat? What type of lighting were you exposed to? What conversations did you have with friends or family? 

This information will start to help you and your doctor determine the most likely triggers of your migraines. Then, you can begin to find ways to prevent future episodes and treat them accordingly, if they occur in the future.

There are no guaranteed treatments for migraines, although doctors tend to prescribe various drugs or natural treatments to help alleviate the symptoms. 

Migraine treatments

What medicines help relieve migraine pain?

Some doctors will likely prescribe migraine patients with a drug to help ease some of the symptoms. These drugs typically include:

  • Epilepsy drugs - valproic acid (Depakote, Depakene) and topiramate (Qudexy XR, Topamax, Trokendi XR)
  • Antidepressants - Amitriptyline (Elavil) and Nortriptyline (Pamelor)
  • Blood pressure drugs - beta-blockers and calcium-channel blockers.
  • CGRP inhibitors, including eptinezumab (Vyepti), erenumab (Aimovig), fremanezumab (Ajovy), and galcanezumab (Emgality).

How can The Migraine Stopper help to prevent migraine pain?

Using a device like The Migraine Stopper is an innovative and natural way to deal with a migraine and can be likewise used as preventative therapy. The Migraine Stopper is a unique ear pump that is operated by the migraine patient. It applies gentle and precise positive and negative air pressure to stimulate two nerves in the ear and consequently provide migraine relief.

It is designed to stimulate the trigeminal and vagus nerves in order to calm down the over-excited brain stem.

The Migraine Stopper works by supplying gentle and directed positive and negative air pressure inside your ear canal. This helps create a steady, reliable, and moderate push and pull effect on the ear canal and eardrum, stimulating nerves known to alleviate migraines. 

The device has been clinically shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of a migraine, including head pain, throbbing, pulsating, and nausea.  

For more information about the Migraine Stopper and what it can do for you, check out our other articles for more information and purchase one today!