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HOW DO MIGRAINES AFFECT THE BRAIN?

Migraines are much more than a headache. This causes a severe, hurting pain usually distresses one side of the head and can come together with nausea, vomiting, light or noise sensitivity, and tingling in the face or limbs. Moreover, some people also experience an aura before the migraine strikes. It may come with numbness, tingling, vision disturbances, or even speech and language problems. Migraines affect an estimated 12% of the world’s population, most commonly between the ages of 35 and 45. Yet, successful migraine treatment can assist alleviate the symptoms. You should ask your doctor before making use of any remedy.

The exact mechanisms that trigger migraines are not fully understood. However, scientists have identified several likely factors that may cause the arteries in the brain to swell, resulting in throbbing pain.

  • One trigger can be a surge of the chemical serotonin

This chemical is known to dilate blood vessels. A drop in serotonin levels may play a role in some forms of migraines, and treatments such as Sumatriptan (Imitrex), which releases serotonin onto nerve cells, can relieve symptoms.

  • Foods and drinks

Many people also report that migraines seem to be triggered by certain foods and drinks such as chocolate, cheese, and wine.

In addition, several studies have pinpointed the following dietary factors-

  • Tyramine 

Tyramine is formed from the breakdown of proteins found in many types of food, including aged cheeses, cured meats, and yeast extract. They all are common migraine triggers. It can widen blood vessels and trigger the release of substances such as serotonin, which can cause dilation of blood vessels, leading to severe headaches. However, avoiding such foods can support your migraine treatment. 

  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

MSG is found in many Chinese foods, which can induce migraines. It is used as a flavor enhancer due to its umami or meaty taste.

  • Caffeine 

Caffeine can trigger pulsating head pains in some people. However, for others, it acts as a protector against the condition. There is growing evidence that caffeine may block pain pathways in the brain.

A landmark study published earlier this year by the Queen Mary University of London found there are two types of migraine, each with distinct mechanisms that involve different brain chemicals to cause migraine attacks.

  • Type 1 or classic migraines 

These kinds of headaches occur due to the dilation of blood vessels in the brain, which then becomes inflamed, releasing substances that lead to pain signals being sent to the brain. Serotonin appears to play a key role in this process.

  • Type 2

Type 2 or migraine with aura involves the dilation of blood vessels. However, neurological mechanisms also appear to be involved. During an attack, chemicals such as calcium and sodium increase significantly in the brain cells. It may further lead to neuronal cell death and tissue damage.

The researchers say this distinction could help develop a better migraine treatment and pave the way for a future cure.

What can help get rid of throbbing headaches?

The treatments can be divided into preventative, acute, and abortive categories. Let us know about them in brief-

Preventative medication

Doctors may prescribe daily prophylactic medications to lessen the frequency and severity of migraines. Beta-blockers such as Propranolol (Inderal) are usually used in the first line. However, depression is a potential side effect of these drugs. Other options include calcium channel blockers and anticonvulsant drugs.

  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex) 

Sumatriptan eases headache pain by narrowing the blood vessels to stop the swelling. Other triptans such as Naratriptan (Amerge) and Zolmitriptan (Zomig) also help relieve symptoms.

  • Treximet 

Treximet combines Sumatriptan and naproxen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Some research has shown that taking this combination provides faster relief than using either medicine alone. However, the long-term effect of taking NSAIDs can irritate the stomach lining.

  • Topiramate (Topamax) 

Topiramate has been found to prevent headaches in some people, although this may be due to a placebo effect. Weight loss is another possible benefit of this medication. Some experts believe migraine sufferers should avoid alcohol as it worsens symptoms and inhibits the action of triptan medications.

  • Calcium channel blockers 

The medications block calcium from entering cells in blood vessels, which reduces blood flow and lowers blood pressure. They work by preventing the release of pain-causing chemicals from the brain’s nerve endings.

Other types of preventative migraine treatment include-

  • Anti-nausea medications 

Anti-nausea medications can help reduce the feeling of being sick and vomiting associated with migraines. It may also help prevent an attack if it is taken before the migraine begins. Nausea medications are sometimes used in combination with painkillers to treat a migraine attack. However, drowsiness is a common side effect of these medications, especially when it is taken by mouth.

  • Anti-sickness medication

Anti-sickness medication, such as domperidone (Motilium), prochlorperazine (Stemetil), and Metoclopramide (Maxolon), may be recommended to treat nausea caused by migraine. However, drowsiness is a common side effect of anti-sickness medication. Prochlorperazine (Stemetil) may cause problems with your heart rhythm (QT prolongation), making it less suitable for some people, such as those who have had a heart attack.

Acute treatment

Acute treatment aims to relieve pain and other symptoms during an attack. A range of drugs can be used, including triptans, analgesics, and NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil). For a severe migraine, a doctor may prescribe strong opioid painkillers such as morphine. However, you should only take them under the direct supervision of a health professional, as they can be addictive.

Some of the acute medications are-

  • Sumatriptan (Imitrex) 

Sumatriptan is a fast-acting migraine treatment for headache pain, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. It narrows blood vessels in the brain to stop the swelling, easing symptoms such as throbbing head pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. However, it can cause dizziness, heartburn, hot flashes, or a feeling of sickness.

  • Zolmitriptan (Zomig)

Zolmitriptan is a type of triptan used to treat migraine attacks. It helps ease headache pain by narrowing the blood vessels to stop the swelling. Side effects are similar to Sumatriptan and can include dizziness, tingling lips, heartburn, hot or cold flashes, and feeling sick.

  • Frovatriptan (Frova) 

Frovatriptan is a type of triptan used to relieve migraine symptoms. It helps ease headache pain by shrinking the blood vessels to prevent swelling. However, it may cause side effects such as dizziness, tingling lips, heartburn, hot or cold flashes, and a feeling of illness.

  • Eletriptan (Relpax) 

Eletriptan works by stopping the release of pain-causing substances in the brain. It is a also type of triptan that can treat migraine attacks. Its side effects are similar to Sumatriptan and can include dizziness, tingling lips, heartburn, hot or cold flashes, and illness. 

Other triptans used for migraine treatment include Naratriptan (Amerge) and Almotriptan (Axert). They may also cause similar side effects to other triptan drugs. Some of them are-

  • Dizziness
    • Hot or cold flashes 
    • Heartburn
    • Tingling lips
    • Feeling of sickness
  • Ergots (ergotamine)

 Ergots are another type of treatment for migraines that act as vasoconstrictors to narrow blood vessels in the brain. Its side effects include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and drowsiness. Moreover, they can also interact with other medications, such as some antidepressants. There discuss this with your doctor before using these drugs. 

  • Ergotamine 

Ergotamine is a vasoconstrictor that narrows blood vessels in the brain to help relieve headache pain. Side effects include vomiting, faintness, and tiredness. It can also interact with other medications, such as some antidepressants.

  • Analgesics (painkillers) 

Analgesics are used to treat migraine attacks. These medications include aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin), ibuprofen (Advil), and acetaminophen. Their side effects can be heartburn, nausea, and stomach irritation. Moreover, taking more than the recommended dose of some painkillers can cause severe problems with your liver over time.

  • NSAIDs 

Doctors may sometimes prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen to help ease a migraine. Their side effects can include heartburn, nausea, and stomach irritation. Moreover, like analgesics, taking more than the recommended dose of some painkillers can lead to liver diseases over time.

  • Cromoglicate (Intal) 

Cromoglicate is sometimes used on an as-required basis to prevent or treat headache pain caused by the release of substances called serotonin and histamine in the body, which can dilate blood vessels. It works by stopping cells in the airways from releasing these substances. However, side effects include an itchy, runny, or blocked nose, sneezing, indigestion, or heartburn.

Abortive migraine treatment

Doctors prescribe these medications at the very first sign of a migraine. They can help reduce the severity and duration of migraines in some people by preventing them from becoming full-blown attacks. A triptan, such as Sumatriptan is a normal and frequent option. However, other options include Rizatriptan (Maxalt), Zolmitriptan (Zomig), and Naratriptan (Amerge). 

Triptans work by constricting blood vessels and therefore reducing inflammation. They also seem to suppress the release of inflammatory substances that cause pain. However, they may cause side effects such as tingling, warmth, or general discomfort in the area where the tablet is taken. Triptans can lead to heart problems in some people. However, newer drugs do not appear to have this problem.

Other abortive treatments include NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil). People who use Opioid painkillers should do it under the supervision of a health professional as they cause severe side effects. However, if you are under 18 and experiencing nausea, vomiting, or dizziness after taking migraine medication, call your doctor for advice as soon as possible because these could be signs of a more critical condition.

How can you prevent migraines?

There are many ways to put off migraines. However, you may not get relieve from all of them. It may take time to see which works the best doe your condition. However, the following strategies may reduce the number of headaches you get-

  • Stop smoking

If you smoke and develop a daily headache, stop smoking. The harmful chemicals present in tobacco can damage brain functioning, which can result in severe headaches. Moreover, do not take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, for a few days while trying to get over nicotine addiction. Only use your migraine treatment, as per your doctor’s directions. 

  • Limit the quantity of intoxicating beverages

Although alcohol can trigger a migraine, some people have reported that they get a migraine less often if they drink a glass of wine every evening with dinner. However, it is not clear why this works, but it may be worth a try.

  • Keep a time of sleeping and waking up

This practice helps to establish a regular sleep pattern, which is good for overall health.

  • Eat small meals all over the day as a replacement for three large ones

Many people with migraines say that they are less likely to have a headache if they eat six or eight smaller meals instead of three larger ones.

  • Do some regular, moderate exercise each day

Several studies have found that people who exercise regularly experience fewer migraines than others do.

  • Limit stress in your life and learn to relax when you can

Several studies indicate that reducing stress may reduce the frequency of your headaches. Relaxation practices like yoga or meditation may help. 

  • Avoid vivid lights, deafening noises, and tough smells 

Dazzling light, loud noises and strong smells can induce an episode of severe headache. Therefore, if you are one of those who develop migraine after coming in the exposure to these factors, avoid them. 

  • Increase your intake of certain foods 

Foods containing serotonin, such as cheese, peanuts, and bananas, can lend you a hand in putting off irritating symptoms. Moreover, keep using your migraine treatment along with taking a healthy diet. 

  • Keep a headache diary 

Write down what you eat and drink daily for three months and whether you have a migraine afterward. Then review your diary to see which foods or drinks might be triggering an attack in you. If this is the case, try avoiding them. However, do not give up without first consulting your doctor.

Migraine prevention is a topic of ongoing study, and not all recommendations will work for everyone. However, if you find a way to prevent migraines that works for you, share with other people suffering from the same neurological disorder.