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Why Are Migraines Still a Mystery?


attractive womanMigraines are a common problem, affecting about 37 million Americans, but even the experts still don’t really understand the complexity surrounding migraines. While we’ve come a long way from the days when migraine headaches were considered a psychological problem, we’re still a long way from knowing what causes them. Slowly, treatments for migraine headaches are progressing, as scientists strive to understand this common ailment.

Here’s what we do know about migraines: they’re genetic, and if one of your parents suffers from migraines, your chances of developing them is about 40%. If both parents have migraines? Your odds are considerably worse; you have a 90% chance of suffering from them, as well. Genetics are only part of the puzzle, however, and researchers have yet to put together the rest of the pieces. 

For many years, the prevailing theory has been that migraines are a vascular disorder, but now it appears they are actually a brain disorder. While it used to be thought that constriction and dilation of blood vessels in the brain caused the pain, it now seems more likely that migraines somehow “hijack” the normal pain circuitry of the brain. New research centers on the trigeminal nerve, which seems to be responsible for transmitting the pain. Another focus of research is a brain chemical called CGRP, which aids in blood vessel constriction and inflammation, and seems to play a role in pain transmission, but not in other functions of the brain. Triptans have proven useful in blocking the release of CGRP in the trigeminal nerve, and some researchers are even working on creating artificial antibodies that would absorb CGRP in the bloodstream before it can cause a migraine.

Still, the more we know about migraines, the more we’re aware of all we don’t know. With this limited understanding, the only option is to treat migraines using the best information available. There are certainly triggers to avoid, like nitrates, cheese, chocolate, onions, caffeine, and msg. Part of what makes migraines so confounding, however, is that these triggers vary widely among migraine sufferers. While one person may succumb to a migraine after indulging in chocolate or cheese, another might suffer no ill effects from either of those, but be guaranteed a day of misery after so much as a bite of raw onion. What’s even more confusing is the inclusion of caffeine in the common trigger list, because many people with migraines swear by caffeine as a remedy. So, given all we do not completely understand, what’s the best way to treat a migraine? It varies, but here are some tactics to try:

  • Track your triggers. Especially if you’re getting migraines often, keep a journal of your diet and activities. Once you know your own triggers, you’ll be better able to avoid migraines.
  • Mind your allergies. Experts aren’t sure why nasal allergies and migraines seem to be linked, but they think that inflammatory chemicals released during an allergy attack may activate the trigeminal nerve. Sometimes, treating your allergy can relieve your migraine.
  • Eat your Wheaties. Having breakfast every morning deters the hypothalamus from being activated and causing headaches.
  • Get some Omega 3s. Found in fatty fish and plants, Omega 3s have proven effective in blocking pain signaling in the nervous system. Chronic headache sufferers can sometimes actually change the brain’s chemical makeup by eating a diet rich in Omega 3s and low in Omega 6s, reducing the frequency and duration of migraines.
  • Head it off at the pass. The minute you sense a migraine coming on, take action. Take medication, take a nap, do whatever works for you, but do it immediately, as delaying can prolong the duration of the migraine.
  • Look for alternatives to medication. Many physical medicine practices have been shown to be useful in alleviating migraine headaches.

At our clinic, we strive to treat patient as whole people, rather than collections of symptoms. In order to help patients achieve optimum wellness, we take a holistic approach, using treatments like chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, and more, to work with the body’s natural healing processes. The initial consultation is free, so call today, to learn more about how we can help alleviate your migraines, and get you back on the path to good health.

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