Each year, about 25 million people in the U.S. experience migraine headaches and about 75% are women. Migraines are intense and throbbing headaches that are often associated with nausea and sensitivity to light or noise. They can last a few hours or as long as a few days. Many of those who suffer from migraines experience visual symptoms called an “aura” just prior to an attack that is often described as seeing flashing lights or the sensation of everything taking on a dream-like appearance.
Migraine sufferers usually have their first attack before age 30 and they tend to run in families, supporting the notion that there is a genetic component to them. Some people have attacks several times a month; others have less than one a year. Most people find that migraine attacks occur less frequently and become less severe as they get older.
Migraine headaches are caused by a constriction of the blood vessels in the brain, followed by a dilation of blood vessels. During the constriction of the blood vessels there is a decrease in blood flow, which is what leads to the visual symptoms that many people experience. Even in people who don’t experience the classic migraine aura, most of them can tell that an attack is immanent. Once the blood vessels dilate, there is a rapid increase in blood pressure inside the head. It is this increased pressure that leads to the pounding headache. Each time the heart beats it sends another shock wave through the carotid arteries in the neck up into the brain.
There are many theories about why the blood vessels constrict. What we do know is that there are a number of things that can trigger migraines, such as lack of sleep, stress, flickering lights, strong odors, changing weather patterns and several foods; especially foods that are high in an amino acid called ‘tyramine.’ You can reduce the likelihood of migraine headaches by making some lifestyle changes.
There are times when migraine headaches are not “true migraines” (vascular) but are migraine mimickers. We can usually tell within just a few minutes if chiropractic care can help your condition.