Migraine Isn't Simply a Headache

Manila Bulletin, August 2, 2011 | Go to article overview

Migraine Isn't Simply a Headache


Q:I suffer from migraine about once every several months, usually when I sleep late for several nights in a row. I know when I'm going to have a migraine because I have blurring of vision about 30 minutes before I experience severe right sided headache. What causes migraine? What can be taken to lessen the pain of, or prevent, an attack of migraine? ---Myrna L., Makati City

MANILA, Philippines -- A: The type of migraine you suffer from is called classical migraine, a condition that presents as throbbing or pulsating headache, usually one sided, that is preceded (by 20 to 60 minutes) by an aura that often consists of a visual disturbance like blurring of vision, or perception of flashes of lights, halos, stars, blind spots, etc.

Aside from classical migraine, there are many other types of migraine and in most the headache is not heralded by an aura. There is also such a thing as headache-free migraine, where there is an aura but without a headache. Thus, contrary to common perception, migraine is not simply a headache because there may in fact be none. Rather, it is a poorly understood condition that is characterized by a series of changes among the cells of, followed by complex changes in blood flow to, certain areas of the brain. The blood flow changes include initial narrowing followed by widening of certain blood vessels of the brain. The widening of the blood vessels is believed to activate nearby pain receptors and give rise to headache.

Migraine headache varies in location, character, intensity and duration from person to person and from one migraine attack to another in the same person. Typically, though, an attack usually starts as pain on one side of the head that is aggravated by physical activity, coughing, straining, sounds, odors and light. An assortment of other signs and symptoms often accompany migraine headache including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, numbness, tingling, weakness, dislike for sound, light and certain smells, temporary paralysis of a limb, ringing of the ear, speech difficulty, temporary blindness, confusion and disorientation. …

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