Migraines are a common chronic disorder that is characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches, accompanied by various autonomic nervous system responses. Generally, the migraine is unilateral (affecting only one side of the head), but can be bilateral (affecting both sides of the head), and can last anywhere from 2 to 72 hours.
Accompanying symptoms may include: nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), phonophobia (increased sensitivity to sound), and a tendency for the pain to increase with physical activity. Approximately 25% of patients experience what are known as 'auras', a visual, sensory, language, or motor disturbance that preceeds the onset of the migraine. Even after the migraine has subsided, the patient can experience lingering effects such as fatigue, irritability, or euphoria
Migraines are believed to be a result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Approximately 80% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraine affecting a first-degree relative. A genetic abnormality on chromosome 19, has been identified for Familial Hemiplegic Migraine, but the specific genetic defects for most other types of migraines are unknown.
Environmental factors such as diet or lifestyle habits have been known to trigger migraines. About half of patients with migraines can identify trigger factors. A common feature of food triggers is a high level of tyramine, which is usually present in aged food.
—Avocado, guacamole, bananas, and dried fruit
—Aged cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Limburger, Asiago, or Parmesan (Cream cheese, cottage cheese, and provolone have the lowest tryamine levels)
—Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
—Aspartame (Artificial Sweetners: NutraSweet)
—Beer & Wine (Particularly red wine)
By keeping a migraine diary, in conjunction with a food diary, patients can track any correlations between specific foods and migraine episodes to identify possible trigger foods. Once these potential trigger foods have been identified, the patient can begin eliminating them one by one to confirm that a particular food acts as a migraine trigger.
Environmental changes have been known to trigger migraines in some patients as well. Fortunately, these environmental factors can be alleviated by lifestyle changes, or changes to your environment. If it is not possible to completely eliminate an environmental factor, measures can still be taken to minimize exposure to the environmental triggers.
—Irregular sleep patterns
—Exposure to bright lights
Lifestyle changes such as proper and consistent sleep hygiene, regular physical exercise, and stress management techniques have been found to be helpful in curtailing migraine episodes. As with food triggers, a headache diary is crucial in identifying trigger, headache patterns, headache frequency, and monitoring your responses to various treatments.
—Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle
—Hormonal changes during menopause (40-55 years old)
—Hormonal changes in adolesence, prior to Menarche (first menstrual cycle)
—Certain forms of birth control (particularly those containing high doses of estrogen)
—Hormone Replacement Therapy
Women can experience headaches (or migraines) related to changes in levels of the female hormone, estrogen, during a woman's menstrual cycle. Typically, estrogen levels in a woman will fall immediately before the beginning of their menstrual flow. Premenstrual migraines generally occur, during or immediately after, the time when the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are at their lowest levels. Every individual's situation is different, for information specific to your needs, please talk to your primary care physician.A healthy diet & lifestyle, an understanding of your personal headache triggers, and timely administration of prophylaxis & abortive medications are critical components for successful prevention of Migraine headaches.
If you, or someone you know, suffer from Migraine headaches, and is interested in volunteering for one of our many studies, please do not hesitate to call us. Or if it is more convenient for you, please fill out a questionnaire, and we will contact you as soon as possible.
We believe that everyone deserves a better quality of life, and a greater understanding of Migraine headaches is the first step in developing improved treatments for Migraine headaches.