The Causes of Migraine

Migraine is a common condition. Around 1 in 7 women and 1 in 15 men will experience migraine at least once in their lifetime.

There are many different theories about what causes migraines, but the most widely accepted theory is that they occur because blood vessels in the brain become swollen or inflamed. This may be caused by changes to chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, which can affect nerve signals between the brain and body.

It's thought that people who have migraines also tend to have higher levels of certain substances called prostaglandins in their bodies than those who don't get them. Prostaglandins cause pain and inflammation in the body.

However, it's not clear exactly why these substances build up inside the blood vessels. It's possible that they might be released when the blood vessel walls expand during a migraine attack.

It's thought that migraine headaches begin in one area of the brain (the trigeminal nucleus) before spreading to other areas.

When this happens, the nerves that control sight and sound are affected first. The person usually experiences an aura – a set of symptoms that occurs before the headache starts. These include:

- numbness or tingling on one side of the face or around the mouth

- vision problems, including flashing lights, blind spots, or difficulty seeing colour

- sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells

- problems with speech

- trouble walking

People often describe the aura as feeling like pins and needles, but some people feel only numbness or weakness. After the aura has passed, the pain begins. A migraine usually lasts for several hours, although sometimes it can last for days.

Migraines can be triggered by a number of things, including:

- strong emotions, such as stress or anxiety

- bright lights or loud noises

- alcohol, smoking, or caffeine

- skipping meals

- missing sleep

- hormonal changes

- certain foods, such as cheese, chocolate, or red wine

- weather conditions, especially temperature changes

- skipping menstrual periods

- taking certain medications, such as beta blockers, antihistamines, or diuretics

A number of treatments are available for migraine. If you're having frequent attacks, your doctor may recommend that you try preventative medication. There are also a number of lifestyle changes that can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

These include:

- getting regular exercise

- eating regularly and avoiding skipping meals

- avoiding alcohol and smoking

- keeping a diary of what triggers your migraines so you can avoid them

- sleeping well

If you think you might be experiencing migraines, see your GP. They'll ask about your symptoms and do a physical examination to check whether there's any damage to your eyes or other parts of your head. They may also refer you to a neurologist if they suspect that the cause of your migraines is something more serious.

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