The numbers are alarming: 36 million people in the United States alone suffer from migraine headaches; 75 percent of all sufferers are women; and ten percent of children exhibit migraine symptoms. Many more people go undiagnosed as migraines are easily mistaken for other types of headaches and, often, the sufferer believes that nothing can be done about the pain.
Migraine symptoms are varied. In addition to the headache, people may experience photophobia, vomiting, nausea, dizziness and even partial paralysis. Not everyone reacts in the same way: one person may experience nausea, while another will report severe photophobia without nausea.
Other symptoms can include:
- Lack of appetite
- Sound and smell sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Feelings of heat or cold
- Tender scalp
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depression, nervousness or irritability
- Bulging veins in the temples.
Types of Migraine
Migraines can be broadly divided into two types of headaches: classic and common. The classic type begins with a phenomenon called aura. Aura begins five to twenty minutes before the actual headache, and is often accompanied by photophobia, or sensitivity. Visual disturbances are common, including shimmering lights seen around the edges of objects. Aura can also affect the other senses: unusual sounds or smells may be experienced.
Only about twenty percent of sufferers experience aura. A migraine without aura is referred to as “common”. Both types of headaches usually affect only one side of the head, and the headache may last for several hours, or even days.
Migraines are vascular headaches; that is, they occur when the blood vessels in the brain or around the face dilate or contract suddenly. The exact cause of this is unclear, although brain chemistry and genetics are believed to be responsible. Triggers—events or substances that set off the headache—are almost impossible to list. It seems that all triggers are highly individualized. Weather, certain foods, stress, and loud noises: these are just a few possible triggers. Women often report that they suffer more headaches during their menstrual cycles, suggesting that hormonal changes can also act as triggers.