Long thought to be a particularly severe type of headache, migraines are now categorized as a neurological disease with a number of causes and a variety of symptoms, ranging from annoying to life-threatening. Unlike regular headaches, which are felt when blood vessels in the head constrict, migraines are felt when they expand. If a sufferer takes medicine for a regular headache, it will only make the pain and other symptoms worse.
Those suffering from this condition can experience a wide range of effects, from numbing pain to sensitivity to light, from having difficulty speaking to seeing spots of light, or auras. It is thought that these symptoms are caused by overly-sensitive neurons, firing in a cascade effect at the presentation of a trigger.
A number of different triggers can instigate migraines in those who are susceptible. Some are out of the individual's control, such as particular weather patterns or phases of the menstrual cycle. Other triggers can be identified and avoided; these include foods such as chocolate, fish, certain cheeses, and monosodium glutamate. Environmentally, smoke, bright lights, or certain smells can also play a part.
Since the causes of migraines are invisible, it is all too easy for people around the sufferer to minimize the problem. Migraine disease should be taken seriously; the pain is quite real, and potentially dangerous. At its worst, it can lead to life-threatening aneurysms or strokes, and migraine sufferers are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke than those free of this disease. Birth control pills can increase the risk, so women who suffer from migraines should talk to a medical professional before choosing this method of birth control.
There is no known genetic component to having a predisposition to migraines. Certain forms of epilepsy can effect some sufferers, such that a migraine can trigger a seizure and vice versa.
New drugs are now available to assist in managing this disease. They are of two types: one is taken regularly to prevent or lessen the likelihood of attacks and the other is taken at the onset of a migraine to stop its progress.