The World Health Organisation (WHO) Atlas of Headache Disorders (2011) states that half to three quarters of adults aged 18 – 65 years in the world have had headaches in the last year. Of this figure 10% have migraine, and 1.7 – 4% are affected by headaches on 15 or more days every month. Whoah!
In a study conducted 12 years ago, the WHO listed migraine as the 19th cause of disability in the world! For such a widely spread condition, it is still considered a phenomenon, as its exact causes are unknown.
A lot of research is done on this disease and more and more new information is coming to light about why they occur and what exactly happens in your brain at the beginning, during and after an attack.
Migraine are typically characterised by attacks of severe, unilateral (one-sided) throbbing headache and in one third of patients, aura symptoms (Schoonman et al 2008). Other associated features include nausea, sensitivity to light & sound, and exacerbation of headache pain with head movement.
Why do they occur?
For a long time, they have been referred to as vascular headaches (relating to blood vessels), as it was initially thought that the blood vessels on the surface of your brain dilate, and with each heartbeat, the blood surging through the dilated blood vessel wall resulted in the throbbing pain. This theory has been questioned by recent research where it was concluded that attacks are not associated with vasodilatation (enlarging of blood vessels) as the research showed that blood vessel diameters were no different from the beginning of the headache, nor between the headache and non-headache sides (Schoonman et al 2008). Therefore, the mystery to some degree is still unsolved. What has become clearer to all is that they are in fact an inherited neurological disorder
An Australian genetic research team at Griffiths University, led by Professor Lynn Griffiths, discovered three genes for migraine disease. The research clearly showed that almost all sufferers have a close relative who is a migraineur.
Attacks occur in relation to an individual’s level of vulnerability (or sensitivity) in the brain. The greater the vulnerability, the more frequently the attacks will occur. Migraine attacks are initiated when internal or environmental triggers are of a sufficient intensity that they activate a series of events which result in a migraine headache (www.americanheadachsociety).
Migraine headaches are known for their very specific phases as outlined below:
Generally, migraineurs will experience symptoms up to 24 hours prior to the onset of a migraine, this is referred to as the prodrome phase.
The aura phase consists of neurological symptoms that persist up to one hour and may include visual, sensory, or language disturbance. Although most migraine patients will never have an aura, much attention has been focused on this phase which is experienced by only 15% of suffers.
Within an hour of the aura symptoms, the migraine headache appears with its unilateral throbbing pain and other associated symptoms. The headache may last for up to 72 hours.
For up to 24 hours after the throbbing has resolved, many patients may experience fatigue and intermittent return of the head pain following coughing or sudden head movement. This can be referred to as a migraine hangover.
Migraine can lead to other health conditions
Migraine can also induce a number of other physical conditions such as strokes, aneurysms, permanent visual loss, coma and possibly even death.
The New England Journal of Medicine states that 27% of all strokes suffered by persons under the age of 45 are caused by migraine.
There are still large numbers of people who suffer from migraines who remain undiagnosed – this means they are suffering without proper treatment and not working towards a solution of possible elimination. Let’s work together to ensure that we understand migraine and what we can do to eliminate them from our lives. If you suffer from migraine then I hope to work together with you in investigating all the possble causes, and if you know somebody who suffers from migraines, then please share my information with them. Also, let’s support migraine research so that we can understand them as fully as possible and look forward to working towards living limitlessly.
I hope this basic introduction to migraines has been informative.
Be sure to watch out for next the next video in the series!
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