What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

Migraine Mystery-What New Research Has Uncovered

Migraine Source Not As Originally Believed

It is surprising to note that in today's age of technology and miracle medicine, migraine headache sufferers are often not diagnosed for years after their first onset. Roughly 30 million people in the US alone are affected by migraines, yet little is known about these often debilitating headaches. There is, thankfully, a new generation of research and the accompanying medications to help those who have to deal with migraines and hopefully the effects will be far-reaching.

It has long been thought that the pain of a migraine headache is due to the expansion and contraction of certain blood vessels in the head creating vascular headaches. The most frequently prescribed treatment is triptan, a drug which shrinks blood vessels. However, recent research is indicating that this long held concept may be incomplete.

The Pain Comes From The Brain, Not the Vessels

According to headache expert Dr. David Dodick, of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, "The pain comes from the brain, and not the vasculature." What actually starts a migraine deep inside the brain has been a mystery. Migraine sufferers can experience the onset of a headache as a result of lack of sleep, stress, certain sounds, light or smells. The person who gets migraines has a hyper-sensitive sensory system which remains on high alert at all times. That's why a sound can trigger a headache.

Whatever the trigger, a series of chemical and electric signals spreads throughout the brain causing blood vessels to expand and contract. This process has long been thought to be the key to the throbbing pain which marks a migraine. Triptans, a migraine drug developed in the 1980s, were designed to make the blood vessels smaller, thus limiting the expansion/contraction action.

Today, researchers and scientists are thinking differently about migraines and think the vessels are not the main factor. The new focus is on changes in brain chemicals, such as serotonin, and on the pain signals which travel along the trigeminal nerve which runs from the brain to the face. This nerve is the main route for migraine pain according to Dr. Dodick. Many scientists believe triptans work by blocking the pain-signal along this route - changes to the vessels were extraneous.

New Drug, New Hope

A new drug for migraines is being tested which has no effect on the vessels at all. The target of this medication is the spread of pain messages and it is thought this medication would be more helpful to migraine sufferers than triptans. Triptans must be taken at the first sign of a migraine in order to work well. Because they constrict blood vessels, they can be dangerous for people with high blood pressure or someone with a history of stroke or artery disease.

Don't Do-It-Yourself

Most people who experience migraines tend to suffer through them without help or by treating them with over-the-counter medications. Such treatments end up requiring larger and larger doses as the symptoms get worse. The outcome can be severe liver damage and stomach problems. Rather than treating the symptoms in this manner, it is important that proper medical help be sought to deal with the pain and associated effects of migraine headaches.