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Migraines

Migraines

Migraine headaches are fortunately suffered by a relatively small percentage of people, but for those who do suffer, migraines can literally take over their life.

Migraines are categorized by the International Headache Society by degrees of severity, with a category 0 attack being extremely mild so that life goes on relatively normally, ranging to 3 which represents severe pain that prevents all forms of activity.

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Migraine headaches are a neurological syndrome where the pain in your head can be accompanied by altered perceptions, nausea and/or vomiting. The typical migraine attack is unilateral (i.e. affecting just one side of the head) with a pulsing, throbbing pain which can last from four hours up to 72 hours.

The pain is often accompanied by an aversion to light or noise and it is believed that up to one third of people who suffer migraine headaches will recognize the onset of an attack because of altered visual, aural or olfactory perceptions immediately beforehand.

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The widely accepted cause of migraines is that they come out as a result of some kind of imbalance in the serotonergic control system as scans have indicated that many migraine sufferers show significantly increased levels of blood flow to the brain just prior to the onset of an attack.

However, not all migraines seem to come on in exactly the same way with some people being genetically disposed to suffering migraines. On the opposite side, there are with no genetic propensity to migraine attacks who suffer because of malfunctions in the transport of potassium and calcium ions in the brain.

There also seems to be some connection with fluctuating hormone levels, indicated by the fact that in adults, 75% of people who suffer migraine headaches are women, whereas migraines affect similar numbers of prepubescent girls and boys. Furthermore, whilst some women suffer more migraine headaches during pregnancy, others find that their susceptibility to migraines disappears completely whilst they are pregnant.

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As suggested, up to one third of migraine sufferers will find that their attack is preceded by a period where they sense, see or hear an ‘aura’ that will gradually come on over a period of 15 minutes or so, and last for less than one hour. Generally speaking, after the aura has disappeared, the migraine attack itself will begin within an hour of the disappearance, although it can be several hours before the attack happens.

For the majority of migraine sufferers who do not sense or see an aura, they will often experience other ‘symptoms’ such as heightened irritability, yawning, fatigue, euphoria or feeling blue as well as suffering stiff muscles, especially in the neck. Most sufferers have characteristic signs that almost always indicate the impending onset of a migraine attack which can follow anywhere from a few hours to a few days later.

Because these signs gradually become recognizable and clear over a period of time, a reasonably observant migraine sufferer (or family member of a sufferer) can predict with a degree of accuracy when they are about to have a migraine attack, meaning that they can try to do something about preventing the attack happening.

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Whether such preventative action is going to be successful will depend on many factors but knowing when an attack is likely to happen does at least allow the sufferer to try to head it off.


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