Home > Migraines > What are Migraines?

What are Migraines?

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 19 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Migraine Headache Treatment Trigger

A migraine headache is a severe headache with pain felt on one or both sides of the head. The pain is typically concentrated around the front part of the head near the temples, or behind an eye or ear. The headache may last for several hours or even several days.

Who Gets Migraines?

There are approximately 6 million adults in the UK who suffer from migraines. Roughly 1 in 4 women, or 1 in 12 men will get a migraine at some point in their life. Frequency ranges a great deal, with some people experiencing migraines rarely and others having several each week.

Signs You May Be Experiencing A Migraine

There are several phases involved in a migraine headache and not every sufferer will experience each phase. Awareness of migraine symptoms may be helpful when you first visit your doctor to communicate your discomfort. In the pre-headache phase, the sufferer may experience the following symptoms:

  • Muscle tension
  • Heightened sensory awareness
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhoea or constipation
  • Intense thirst
  • Depression
  • Hyperactivity

For those who do have a distinctive pre-headache phase, it can be helpful to identify the symptoms occurring to allow for immediate treatment. This may prevent the migraine from escalating into a painful headache phase. In the headache phase, a person may experience:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Pain on one side
  • Pins and needles
  • Loss of concentration
  • Mild pain that escalates to severe
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Tenderness in neck
  • Mood disruption

Classic or Common?

Migraines are also categorized into two types: classic and common.

In a classic migraine headaches, a person has visual symptoms known as an 'aura.' These tend to occur 10 minutes to half an hour before the migraine attack. The sufferer may see flashing lights or zigzag lines and may also experience blind spots or vision loss for some time. An aura can also involve seeing unusual sights or hearing odd sounds. A person's overall sensory perception may become very distorted.

In a common migraine, no aura is involved but the other symptoms of migraines, such as head pain and nausea, generally occur.

What Causes Migraines?

The exact cause of migraine headaches is not clearly understood, despite ongoing research. A decrease followed by an increase in blood flow to part of the brain is suggested to contribute to a migraine. The stretching of a blood vessel wall thus results in the pain experienced. It is also thought that migraines may be caused by the release of specific chemicals, which then cause inflammation and pain. Levels of serotonin seem to decrease at the onset of a migraine attack but are normal during migraine free periods.

Recent studies have linked genes to migraine. It is suggested that people who suffer from migraines may inherit abnormal genes that control the functions of certain brain cells. In those who are predisposed to migraine, the attack may then be set off when some part of the brain becomes 'over-excited' by a specific stimulus or 'trigger.' Triggers vary from person to person, but common dietary and environmental ones have been identified.

One of the first steps to managing your migraine and receiving proper treatment is understanding just what a migraine is; hopefully a greater knowledge will mean better treatment of the disease. By becoming informed and talking to your doctor, you can learn more about managing migraines.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Julieregan
    Re: Headaches and Migraines in Women
    I have an overactive thyroid gland and have had it since I was 40. I am using carbimazole tablets once daily. I struggle with…
    25 July 2017
  • holycow
    Re: Sinus Headaches
    my daughter has been diagnosed as suffering from a virus in the brain, how can she get rid of this pounding headache that never stops
    24 July 2017
  • JTV56
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    @Stells - I would - it doesn't harm and it's always best to be on the safe side. Jean.
    20 July 2017
  • Stells
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    I fell backwards 2 weeks ago and hit my head on the pavement, initially it dud hurt and I had a headache the next day. I was on…
    19 July 2017
  • bree
    Re: Thyroid Disease and Headaches
    2011 March 27th migraine started after herniated disc c5/c6 had a formanectomy in 2012 after a conservation period under…
    12 July 2017
  • Tomba
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    My problem started about 15 days ago. The pain first started at the right side of the head including the right cheek, right ear and…
    6 July 2017
  • PrinDi
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    @Stinging Headpain - Poor you, it sounds genuinely awful. I hope you get better soon and manage to resolve all these awful…
    4 July 2017
  • Stinging Headpain
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    Oops...My pain is on top of left side of my head. It feels like my head is on fire sometimes..I have also tried a chiropractor.…
    3 July 2017
  • Stinging Headpain
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    I have been in pain off and on for 11 years...The first bout of pain lasted for 6 months..It will stop for a few months and start…
    3 July 2017
  • HeadacheExpert
    Re: Herbal Remedies for Headache and Migraine Relief
    Ummnoor - Your Question:If you have had an MRI (CTS?) scan and nothing unusual has been found then the…
    3 July 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the HeadacheExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.