What Are Migraines And How Do They Happen

Migraines are neurological syndromes that manifest as chronic, severe headaches often accompanied by nausea or sensitivity to light. While the symptoms of migraines vary from person to person, headache pain is often the primary concern for those who suffer from migraines. This pain often feels like it’s throbbing or pulsating, and it can occur on one or both sides of the head.

The difference between a migraine and an ordinary headache can usually be determined by the duration and intensity of the pain. Migraine headaches tend to worsen with physical exercise, and are often severe enough to interfere with daily activities.

What Causes Migraines?

Scientists do not clearly understand what makes some people more susceptible to migraines than others. A central pain pathway in the brain called the “trigeminal nerve” may be involved. An imbalance in brain chemicals like serotonin may also increase a person’s vulnerability to migraine headaches.

Whatever the root cause, it seems clear that certain activities and changes in the environment may trigger the onset of migraine headaches. These can include:

  • Certain salty foods, food preservatives and flavor additives
  • Changes in weather
  • Hormone shifts
  • Intense bouts of physical activity
  • Side effects of some medications
  • Stress.

Treating Migraines

Even though migraines are not well understood, several treatments are available that can prevent the onset or alleviate the pain of migraine headaches.

If you suffer from symptoms of migraines, monitor the patterns that surround your attacks. Observing the changes in your environment or behavior that occur before or during migraine headaches can help you avoid these triggers. If you describe your observations to your doctor, she can help you target the source of the problem and select an appropriate form of treatment.

About half of those who suffer from migraine headaches stand to benefit from available forms of treatment. Your migraines may be treatable, so it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor if migraine headaches are interfering with your quality of life.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Migraine basics. Retrieved January 6, 2011, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120

The National Women’s Health Information Center. (2010.) What is migraine? Retrieved January 6, 2010, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/faq/migraine.cfm#a