Why do some people suffer from the agonizing head pain of migraines—and nausea and sensitivity to light that can accompany them—while others don't? The answer, at the biochemical level, is complicated, but probably boils down to this: Migraine sufferers' brains are simply more sensitive to outside stimuli than are other people's brains.
Older theories about migraines suggested that symptoms were possibly due to fluctuations in blood flow to the brain. Now many headache researchers realize that changes in blood flow and blood vessels don't initiate the pain, but may contribute to it.
As improved technology and research have paved the way for a better understanding, today, it is widely understood that chemical compounds and hormones, such as serotoin and estrogen, often play a role in pain sensitivity for migraine sufferers.
One aspect of migraine pain theory explains that migraine pain happens due to waves of activity by groups of excitable brain cells. These trigger chemicals, such as serotonin, to narrow blood vessels. Serotonin is a chemical necessary for communication between nerve cells. It can cause narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body.
When serotonin or estrogen levels change, the result for some is a migraine. Serotonin levels may affect both sexes while fluctuating estrogen levels affect women only.
For women, estrogen levels naturally vary over the life cycle, with increases during fertile years and decrease afterward. Women of childbearing age also experience monthly changes in estrogen levels. Migraines in women are often associated with these fluctuating hormone levels and may explain why women are more likely to have migraines than men.
Some research suggests that when estrogen levels rise and then fall, contractions in blood vessels may be set off. This leads to throbbing pain. Other data suggest that lower levels of estrogen make facial and scalp nerves more sensitive to pain.
Research also suggests that the cause of migraines may in part be the excitation of a nerve responsible for sensation in the face.
"It's called the trigeminal nerve," explains Larry Newman, MD, director of the Headache Institute at St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.
When the trigeminal nerve is stimulated, it causes the release of a variety of neurotransmitters (among them serotonin, which is also associated with mood change). These, in turn, cause the blood vessels that surround the brain to expand and become inflamed.
A Neurologist explained that you need to understand and attack the pain in your head. The blood vessels are attached to nerve fibers which transmit the pulsations from the blood vessels back into the brain, which is why you may percie the throbbing pain during a migraine.
A Neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. said that this is a system that we all have but in people who have a migraine, it is a system vulnerable to being repeatedly activated when there's no good reason. (Learn more about different types of migraine, their causes, symptoms and treatments here)
A typical migraine occurs in two steps.
1. The trigeminal nerve is activated
When the trigeminal nerve gets excited the most common first symptom is pain around the eye and temple. If that pain is treated quickly with migraine medications, inflammation can be reduced, and a sufferer can shut down the migraine relatively quickly.
2. The central nervous system is triggered
If the pain is left untreated, another mechanism will trigger in the central nervous system itself. At this point, that pain mechanism becomes very difficult to turn off. Medications at this stage are less likely to work. It's as if the pain has become independent of the original source at the trigeminal nerve.
A recipe for prolonged suffering
Dr. Cutrer stated, "Once it goes beyond a certain point, cutting off the source is no longer sufficient because the pain of the headache reverberates in the central nervous system. A different set of neurons has now become irritable and activated and getting them back to normal is not easy. They can continue to be reactivated and reactivated and the headache becomes harder to treat."
That's the dreaded migraine phase that can go on for hours or days.
At that point, everything in your head can hurt. (Learn more about what you should and shouldn't do when you have a migraine)
Because of the importance of catching migraines in the early phase, doctors advise patients to monitor triggers and symptoms to prevent excitation of the trigeminal nerve and, if that fails, to get the jump on treatment to calm it down. Triggers missed and medication delayed are a recipe for prolonged suffering.
Here are some tips you could use at home when you have a migraine.
https://www.bustle.com/p/what-actually-happens-in-your-brain-when-you-have-a-migraine-according-to-experts-16823975 https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/headache/how-a-migraine-happens https://www.health.com/health/condition-article/0,,20327068,00.html https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/migraine-what-is-it/symptoms-and-stages/