A migraine is a severe, painful headache that can be preceded or accompanied by sensory warning signs such as flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
What are migraine headaches?
The exact cause of migraine headaches is unknown; it is thought to be due to abnormal brain activity causing a temporary alteration in the nerve signals, chemicals and blood flow in the brain.
Migraine headaches can be very debilitating affecting 1 in 4 households in America. They are more common in women than men, and 3% of people have chronic migraines where they experience symptoms for half the month for six months.
How common are migraines?
The prevalence of migraine headaches is high, affecting roughly 1 out of every 7 Americans annually, and has remained relatively stable over the last 8 years.Migraine and headache are leading causes of outpatient and ED visits and remains an important public health problem, particularly among women during their reproductive years.The National Headache Foundation states that health care providers have properly diagnosed fewer than half of all migraine sufferers.
Migraine is commonly misdiagnosed as tension-type headache or sinus headache.
What triggers migraine headaches?
Some people who suffer from migraines can clearly identify triggers or factors that cause the headaches, but many cannot. Potential migraine triggers include:
Allergies and allergic reactions
Bright lights, loud noises, flickering lights, smoky rooms, temperature changes, strong smells and certain odors or perfumes
Physical or emotional stress, tension, anxiety, depression, excitement
Physical triggers such as tiredness, jet lag, exercise
Changes in sleep patterns or irregular sleep
Smoking or exposure to smoke
Skipping meals or fasting causing low blood sugar
Hormonal triggers such as menstrual cycle fluctuations, birth control pills, menopause
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
Medication such as sleeping tablets, the contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy.