Migraine has also been referred to as a neurovascular headache due to the fact that one aspect of migraine development involves changes in the chemistry and diameter of the blood vessels that provides blood to the brain and the nerves in the neck and head.
How does migraine occur?
The common belief is that the sequence of occurrence of the migraine headache pains is as follows:
1. First the blood vessels surrounding the brain becomes dilated and starting pressing on the adjacent nerves. It is still a mystery though on exactly how and why these blood vessels dilate although it seems that there is some form of chemical signal that is activating the pain sensors in the trigeminal nerve that runs from a location near the skull center, up and over the eyes and then towards the forehead.
2. These stimulated nerve fibers then release fragments of proteins, known as neuropeptides, which cause the swelling and inflammation of the blood vessels.
3. The expansion of the blood vessels irritates the trigeminal nerve further, like a vicious cycle, resulting in the migraine headache pain.
Symptoms of migraine
A migraine attack typically goes through four distinct phases where the migraine sufferers will encounter certain migraine symptoms for each phase.
General symptoms experienced in the prodrome phase, also known as the preheadache phase, includes irritability, increased yawning, fatigue, mood swings and food cravings.
About 15% of migraine sufferers can experience an aura before the development of the migraine headache. Symptoms experienced are weakness or numbness on one side of the body, visual disturbances such as seeing blind spots and flashing lights, slurred speech and sensitivity to sound and light.
The migraine headache phase can usually last between 4 to 72 hours and is considered to be the most scary and painful phase. The symptom encountered is a throbbing headache where in about 60% of the cases, the headache occurs on only one side of the head. Other associated symptoms experienced includes diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness and tinnitus.
The postdrome phase is when the pain and other associated symptoms have resolved and most of the time the migraine sufferer just feel like wanting to be left alone. Common symptoms encountered in this phase are surge in energy, increased appetite, euphoria, fatigue and confusion.
Not all migraine sufferers will go through all the four phases though. An example is a person who is suffering from migraine without aura, will completely skip the aura phase during the migraine attack. It is important that we understand what is migraine and the symptoms of migraine indepth so that we can differentiate it from other types of headaches and be able to seek appropriate treatment.