Thursday, June 24, 2010

Migraine Links: What Is It? Who Gets It?

So what causes a migraine? Let's see what the Mayo Clinic says are frequent migraine triggers:

  • Hormonal changes in women.
  • Food: alcohol, aged cheeses; chocolate; aspartame; overuse of caffeine; MSG; salty foods; and processed foods. 
  • Skipping meals
  • Stress
  • Bright lights and sun glare, loud sounds, unusual smells.
  • Missing sleep or getting too much sleep.
  • Intense physical exertion.
  • A change of weather or barometric pressure
  • Certain medications
So...according to The Mayo Clinic, migraines can be triggered by eating, not eating, sleeping, not sleeping, light, sound, exercise, medicine, weather, travel....basically, they don't know. It seems that if your parents had them there's a good chance you will have them. (Side note: my parents and my grandparents don't get them.)

Ok, so we don't know what causes them , but what exactly are migraines? The answer there can basically be summed up with "it's when something goes wrong in your brain."
    Theories on migraines include such scary sounding things as:

    • "Cortical spreading depression" in which brain activity is reduced over part of your cortex, which causes your brain to release inflammatory agents to wake your brain back up. During the migraine your (let's just switch to the first person), MY brain becomes depolarized, and the migraine peaks in intensity when a majority of my brain is depolarized. I'll rephrase this: last Friday, my brain's electrical charge reversed itself.

    • Vascular Problems. Or maybe the blood vessels in my brain were just contracting and expanding when they shouldn't have been. Under this theory some of my brain arteries are spasming shut and the lack of blood in parts of my brain leads to the visual aura. Then when the arteries loosen these same blood vessels get too full of blood and some leaks out (into my brain), my pain receptors spot this and release inflammatories because they think that's a good idea. It's not, because every time my heart beats (which is something it tends to do) blood goes through the inflamed area and results in terrible pain.

    • Serotonin Problems. Some think that if my serotonin levels are too low then it causes this constriction and dilation of my brain arteries, causing a migraine.

    • General Brain Problems. Or, maybe just part of my brain stem is sorta irritated and inflamed, which causes my body to release chemicals, which just pisses my brain stem off even more and which leads to a migraine.

    • Or all of the above.

    There's basically no working theory that doesn't involve something going wrong in my brain. There's also a possibility that the chances of me having a stroke (what with all the brain/blood/artery problems) are about two or three times higher than non-migraine sufferers.

    (Confession: much of this info came from wikipedia. Get over it.)

    So who gets migraines? Turns out it's a lot of people. It's obviously hard to determine stuff like this but 6% to 15% of all adult men are migraine sufferers (meaning at least one a year). Women are more vulnerable to migraines with 14% to 35% of women suffering from migraines. Sorry ladies.

    And they get more common later in life, so if you've never had one before don't worry there's still time.

    There's a ton of websites devoted to migraine sufferers documenting their experiences. Some of their stories are incredibly honest and heartbreaking. There are people out there suffering a lot more than I ever have, and their coping mechanisms are truly miraculous. Severe migraine sufferers have to figure out how to live their lives, and it's inspiring to read their stories of living with migraines and even turning them to their advantage and finding the beauty in them.

    One of the leading sites is The Daily Headache run by Kerrie Smyres who has had a persistent headache and migraine everyday for 20 years. She's amazing and has been blogging about her life since 2004. It's a spectacular site. Also, look at the list of links to other migraine blogs in the right column of the Daily Headache--she lists dozens of people blogging about their migraines and there are countless more.

    The NY Times had a short lived migraine blog, which I wish they would bring back. The contributors included Oliver Sacks, Jeff Tweedy and Siri Hustvedt (migraine sufferers all).

    This NY Times audio feature has several people discussing their migraines and what they've done to help ease the pain. One sufferer participated in an experimental trial and had an electric device implanted in his spine in order to disrupt the migraines. The operation was successful, he used to get migraines everyday, but now he only gets them once every ten days.

    Finally, The Migraine Aura Foundation contains an overwhelming amount of information including migraine art, info on famous migraine sufferers and a ton of testimonials. This link contains some really accurate depictions of the aura. Only 20% - 30% of migraine sufferers actually see auras, and some people have auditory or olfactory hallucinations that accompany the visual aura.

    The most interseting part of migraine week on Paperclip People is the number of peole who have said they had no idea what a migraine even really was before reading my posts. They're bizarre experiences, and I hope I've conveyed some of what it's like. I've also learned a lot in researching this post and the rest of them. Thanks for following along. Please leave comments or links to other sites or articles on migraines in the comments.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment