If you’ve ever experienced a migraine headache, you know how downright debilitating it can be. But even if you know how bad they feel, do you know what causes migraines? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to this question. Migraines remain somewhat of a mystery. Researchers have identified possible theories for what causes migraines, but there is no definitive explanation.
Some believe that migraines are caused by irregularities in the brain’s vascular (blood vessel) system, while others believe that people are genetically predisposed to migraines or that they have abnormalities in brain chemicals and nerve pathways. Still others believe that migraines are a part of a central nervous disorder that can be set off by certain triggers like foods or hormones.
Any of these theories may be true depending on the patient, but what’s clear is that certain people are at higher risk for getting migraines. For example, women are three times more likely to have migraines than men. If a close family member gets migraines, you’re more likely to have them. If one or both of your parents suffer from migraines, your risk is exponentially higher.
Differences Between a Migraine and a Regular Headache
A migraine is a primary headache disorder that can cause intense throbbing in a particular area. Believe it or not, 50 percent of people who suffer from migraines don’t even realize it’s a migraine – many think they’re just experiencing a very bad headache. While both headaches and migraines cause pain, the way they’re treated is quite different.
A regular, run-of-the-mill headache is caused by a contraction of muscles between the head and neck. In comparison, a migraine ranges from moderate to extremely severe throbbing pain. Migraine pain tends to be located at the front or side of the head. Some people who experience migraines become nauseous and dizzy, while others just feel major discomfort.
Other migraine symptoms can include pain behind the ear, changes in vision (such as a migraine “aura” characterized by a pixelated field of vision), and sensitivity to sound, smells, or light. People who experience sporadic migraines may have symptoms that last only a few hours, a day, or two. However, some people suffer from chronic migraines with symptoms that can last almost half a month.
Migraine triggers are unique to each individual. Since researchers have yet to identify the cause of migraines, the best way to prevent them is to avoid what starts them in the first place. It’s common for people to have multiple migraine triggers, such as the following:
Foods and Drinks
Certain foods like aged, preserved, or salty foods tend to cause migraines more than others. Deli meats and cheeses, foods that are highly processed, caffeine, and alcohol can cause or exacerbate a migraine.
Sweeteners and Preservatives
Certain artificial sweeteners like aspartame have been known to trigger migraines. Preservatives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) can also trigger migraines. Be sure to read labels before consuming foods that may contain these ingredients.
Changes in hormone levels can trigger migraines. Many women experience migraines right before or during their period. Other women experience migraines during pregnancy or menopause because of the change in estrogen levels. In addition, medications like birth control or hormone replacement therapy can trigger a migraine.
Certain heart medications have been known to trigger migraines. Examples include vasodilators, such as nitroglycerin.
Mental and Physical Stress
Stress is a very common trigger of migraines. Constant mental stress from your job or personal life that goes uncontrolled can trigger a migraine. In addition, extreme physical exertion or exercise can bring on migraine headaches.
Changes in Weather
You may have noticed that changes in weather cause your migraines. Shifts in barometric pressure have been known to do this to many.
Changes in Sleeping Patterns
A good night’s sleep is so important. If you are prone to migraines, it is important to get regular, routine sleep. Lack of sleep or too much sleep can make you susceptible to migraines.
Have you ever noticed that bright lights, strong smells, or loud noises trigger your migraines? This is a common complaint by migraine sufferers. Bright sunlight, strong perfumes, air pollution, or cigarette smoke can all set off a migraine.
Professional Headache Help in Colorado
Don’t let migraines keep you down – relief is available. If you or a loved one are suffering from migraines, the board-certified doctors and medical staff at Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery are here to help. To request an appointment at one of our Colorado locations, call (303) 790-1800 or use our online form.