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Migraine (Migrane) Headaches

Estimates of the number of Americans suffering from migraine (migrane) headaches range from a conservative 26 million proposed by the American Medical Association to an alarming 48 million (6% of men and 18% of women), based on data from Lipton and Stewart, published in Neurologic Clinics.

Despite this prevalence, migraines remain a mystery to many, even to those who suffer most from these headaches unlike any other. There is no medical test for determining what is or isn't a migrane headache, but guidelines do exist for differentiating between migranes and other severe headaches.

According to an FDA Consumer article based on information from the American Medical Association, nausea and sensitivity to light, sound and odors are characteristics of migraine headaches which don't usually accompany tension or cluster headaches.

Although partial remedies do exist once the pain starts, heading off your headache before it hits you hard is probably the most effective game plan for vanquishing migraines. Learning to recognize the warnings signs of migraine onset and avoiding so-called "triggers" are essential.

Writing in the FDA Consumer, Tamar Nordenberg notes "About 15 to 20 percent of migraine sufferers experience visual and other disturbances about 15 minutes before the head pain." In such cases, the migraines which follow are known as "classic" and the disturbances referred to as "aura." Where immediate treatment is possible when aura manifests, prognosis for avoiding an all-out migraine can be improved.


Identifying the specific or compound triggers for your migraines, and avoiding them, is another way you can help keep your "head happy." Such triggers, according to the FDA, with information from the American Council for Headache Education, may include foods containing tyramine (certain cheeses, dried smoked fish, sour cream, yogurt and others), fatty foods, chocolate and too much, or too little, caffeine.

Food additives such a nitrites (often used in prepared meats), MSG and aspartame are well known triggers for many. As might be expected, lifestyle factors such as stress, sleep deficiency, smoking and irregular eating also play an important role. For women, three times as likely to suffer from migraines as men, hormonal changes such as those accompanying menstruation, menopause or the onset of puberty are often implicated.

Just what causes migraine pain is not clear, but a general consensus exists that dilation of blood vessels (as opposed to constriction, as with standard headaches) is responsible. For this reason, headache medication itself may provoke migraines. For the same reason, seeking the advice of a physician before taking drugs or other remedies is very important; the wrong diagnosis could easily make your migraine worse!

Migraines are not, by any means, unique to the United States. For example, a study by F. Sakai and H. Igarashi, published in Cephalalgia, reported an 8.4% prevalence of migraines in Japan. With so many migraineurs in pain, government and medical bodies have multiplied efforts to make information and resources available to both patients and health care providers.


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