In order to understand migraines we need to first have an understanding of what a migraine is. Many people are under the misconception that if you suffer from a bad headache you are having a migraine, this is in fact not the case. A migraine is much more than a severe headache and experiencing one can be completely debilitating to the sufferer. A migraine is characterised by an excruciating pain in the head that can last for hours or even day, this pain is also accompanied by sensory warnings such as - flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraine headaches result from a combination of blood vessel enlargement and the release of chemicals from nerve fibres that coil around these blood vessels. During the headache, an artery enlarges that is located on the outside of the skull just under the skin of the temple called the temporal artery. This causes a release of chemicals that cause inflammation, pain, and further enlargement of the artery.
What causes migraines?
Some people who suffer from migraines can clearly identify triggers or factors that cause the headaches, but many cannot. Triggers do not always cause migraines, and avoiding triggers does not always prevent migraines. Potential migraine triggers include:
- Allergies and allergic reactions
- Bright lights, loud noises, and certain odors or perfumes
- Physical or emotional stress
- Changes in sleep patterns or irregular sleep
- Smoking or exposure to smoke
- Skipping meals or fasting
- Menstrual cycle fluctuations, birth control pills, hormone fluctuations during menopause onset
- Tension headaches
- Foods containing tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and some beans), monosodium glutamate (MSG), or nitrates (like bacon, hot dogs, and salami)
- Other foods such as chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, banana, citrus, onions, dairy products, and fermented or pickled foods.