‘Migraine’ is the term used for a family of headaches that share similar symptoms. Typically, pain starts in the forehead or the temples – often just on one side of the head. Sufferers tend to want to be in a darkened room. They may feel nauseous, too.
Migraines last anywhere from a few hours to a few days (or up to 72 hours), and for some people, they’re accompanied by visual (or sometimes non-visual) disturbances called ‘auras’.
Auras affect 20 per cent of migraine sufferers and include visions such as flashes of light and zigzagging lines, sensations such as pins and needles, and even speech and language troubles.
What sets a migraine off?
Triggers include fatigue, stress, hormonal changes – and some foods, like alcohol, chocolate, peanuts and avocados, according to Dr Steven Bratman, author of Complementary and Alternative Health: the Scientific Verdict on What Really Works.
Histamine – a compound that occurs naturally in the above food and drinks (minus avocado), as well as in matured cheese – could be the culprit, says Catherine Saxelby, author of the Complete Food and Nutrition Companion.
Often though, Bratman adds, there’s no known triggering factor.
What’s the underlying cause?
Scientists have argued this point for more than a century. “Opinion has swung back between two primary beliefs,” says Bratman.
Theory one: Migraines are linked to epileptic seizures and originate in the nervous tissue of the brain.
Theory two: When they dilate or contract, blood vessels in the skull can cause headache pain. These are called vascular headaches.
What are the risk factors?
Here’s a picture of someone most at risk of suffering migraine, according to the Society for Women’s Health Research in the USA. They…
- Have a family history of migraines
- Are aged 15-55.
- Are more likely female (overall, women have migraines more frequently than men do).
- Also suffer depression, anxiety, stroke, epilepsy or high blood pressure.
- Are experiencing hormonal changes – such as the onset of a period, pregnancy or menopause.
References available on request