Migraine Headache Symptoms Explained
Migraine Answers and the Internet
One of my 21st-century habits is to head for the internet whenever I have a question. How to install a headlamp motor, where to buy parts for my tile saw, where to buy a soap dispenser for a dishwasher, and what to do when a child has a fever—these are all questions I have recently gone online to answer. So when my wife was asking questions about why she experiences certain symptoms when she has migraine headaches, I turned to Google for answers.
My goal was to find substantive information. In this article, I have organized my wife's questions, as well as the answers I found. I hope this information will be helpful to you or someone you know who suffers from migraine headaches.
Multiple Headache Possibilities
It is important for anyone experiencing signs of migraine to consult a physician. Here is a partial list of disorders and diseases that can cause headache: atherosclerosis, stroke, aneurysm, head and neck trauma, blood vessel problems, brain tumor, seizures, high blood pressure, encephalitis, meningitis, and many more.
Numbness in Face and Arms
Question: Why did the right side of my face and my arm go numb when I had my first migraine, and why did I not have a headache?
Answer: Numbness in one arm can come along with numbness on either side of the face, but most of the time on the same side. It can be caused by nerves in the brain. The area of the brain which is in command of the functions of the arm might be affected by infections or stroke. Atherosclerosis (thickening of blood vessels) can also cause decreased blood supply and cause such symptoms. When these things are ruled out, it is believed that in women, many times, the migraine is a result of fluctuating hormones. Seventy-five percent of women are patients. Fifteen percent of sufferers in a study under 750 reported numbness in the face.
It is speculated that the numbness may be caused by high activity in the brain followed by lower activity. When the body senses this lower activity, substances which are inflammatory are released to raise the cerebral activity. It is thought that these substances may be responsible for the nerves responding such that the face and arm go numb. This is a theory; no confirming research has been done. Many physicians will order an MRI to rule out more serious (read other) disorders. Symptoms of migraine can be confused with stroke, heart attack, and panic attacks. Additionally, symptoms may be from multiple sclerosis, heart disease, fibromyalgia, or diabetic neuropathy.
If you have this kind of symptom, you must visit a physician right away. Hemiplegic migraines, classic migraine if with aura, complex migraine, atypical familial hemiplegic migraines (as opposed to typical), just to name a few.
Note: Because the consequences of mis-diagnosis are so dire, the only way to have any peace of mind is to see a doctor.
For more information, Google "cortical spreading depression." I was able to locate at least 10 kinds of migraines.
Pounding in the Head
Question: What causes the terrible pounding in my head?
Answer: The wrong type of vasodilation (dilation of blood vessels) supplying the brain with blood is the best theory for why you get such a pounding headache with a migraine.
The most recent theories about migraine cause is that there are many factors that combine to result in the severe headache. Anxiety and stress are postulated to bring one on. It is speculated that certain foods ingested trigger migraine, also.
There is research that shows a relationship between families and the headache. It is reported that Mayo Clinic has found a genetic link pointing toward migraine.
Toxicity of the body, including the ingestion of toxic compounds might be a trigger. A myriad of other types of diseases or afflictions could have an influence on propensity toward migraine. And, along the lines of deficiency, magnesium deficiency is thought by some to bring about migraine.
A neurotransmitter of particular importance is serotonin. Drops in the level of this brain chemical is thought to be the reason for the dilatation (widening) of the blood vessels and results in the throbbing headache.
Sensitivity to Light
Question: Why does the migraine get worse in the presence of light?
Answer: This symptom is referred to as photophobia. Blind people with migraine in a recent study did not respond with a worsening state when exposed to light. Therefore, the speculation is that somehow the optic nerve must be involved. Researchers identified a group of brain cells which started to become active electrically when the migraine occurred. These brain cells were injected (planted) with electrodes which measured brain excitation. It was discovered that light was affecting these brain cells and increasing their activity within a very short period of time. It is speculated that this activity is what causes sensitivity to light. After 20-30 minutes after removal of the light source, the headache is reported to be better. For more information, Google "why bright light worsens migraine."
Sensitivity to Noise
Question: Why does noise worsen migraine?
Answer: One postulation is that migraine sufferers have a response to sound which isn't like other peoples'. This abnormal response to sound is what accounts, in theory, for aversion to sound during migraine. So a relationship between the response and migraine has been noted, but the cause is not understood. Ninety -five percent of questioners were asked if they would want to be in a noisy area when having a migraine and they responded, "No." They said that they preferred being in a quiet area.
Others in medicine are investigating if there exists a problem with the calcium channel. Calcium channels are pathways which when activated by electricity send signals out to the brain and/or muscles. Studies have shown up to 85% of hemiplegic migraine sufferers have defects in a specific gene, the CACNA1A which is associated with calcium channels.
A class of drugs called calcium channel blockers can be prescribed with the result being calcium ions moving into the cells of the blood vessels and heart. The vessels then relax easing the migraine and sensitivity to sound. The evidence on all migraines is out to debate.
Calcium channels are dependent on electricity and this regulates the flow of calcium ions into cells in such channels. These channels are also related to muscle contraction, hormone release, and neurotransmitter release, hence, the body may be accentuating noise due to a defect in transmission.
Sensitivity to Odor
Question: Why am I sensitive to smell during a migraine?
Answer: Twenty percent of migraine sufferers report to be sensitive to certain smells. Forty to fifty percent report a change in sensitivity to smell. The issue reported most is that smells worsens the intensity of the migraine. It is also reported that people may be able to sense smells from a greater distance than normal. Osmophobia is the dislike or aversion to smells. In experiments, perfumes or cologne affected 64% of respondents. Perfume on an airplane started my wife's last one. The reasons for this hypersensitivity to smell during migraine has not been studied as much as other things like sound and light. So the answer to this question is still to be satisfactorily given.
Sensitivity to Movement
Question: Why, after the migraine proceeds, do I find that moving after lying down causes the headache to worsen?
Answer: Though movement during migraine attacks has been reported to worsen the headache, researchers have found that exercise can actually help prevent migraine.
Since the major theory about migraine is that initially blood vessels in the brain constrict, and then they dilate, it is speculated that movement of the body affects pressure levels at hypersensitive moments increasing inflammation. This might be an explanation for the pain upon movement during a migraine.
Nausea and Vomiting
Question: Why do I throw up during a migraine?
Answer: My wife does not always throw up. And, despite others' reports, inducing vomiting does not help, nor does the headache go away after throwing up, necessarily. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it does not.
The sympathetic nervous system of the human body is often activated during migraine. This system controls primitive responses to stress and pain, often referred to as the fight or flight response, and this activation causes many of the symptoms associated with migraine attacks. Increases in this type of activity in the intestine causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Relationship to MSG?
Question: Does MSG cause migraines?
Answer: MSG is reported frequently in the body of research as a "suspected" trigger, since many people report migraine after ingesting MSG. As of now it is only a "suspected trigger" with no explanation for why.
Question: Why do I sometimes get little dots in front of my eyes?
Answer: Visual aura frequently precedes the migraine attack. Migraines are divided into two major categories: those with aura, and those without aura. Visual aura is an electrical wave that moves across the brain's visual cortex. This electrical activity stimulates the visual cortex bringing about flashing lights, dots, etc.
And now a final comment. Just to relate what helps my wife deal with migraine, I will tell you, the reader, what she does. However, you MUST see a physician to get either a diagnosis or prescription medication!
My wife, after consultation with physician(S) finds this a most effective solution for her. If she catches the migraine early enough (has the symptoms elucidated above) she takes Excedrin Migraine and lies down. Most of the time things get better. If they don't get better within 45 minutes to 1 hour she takes Lorcet 10/650. This is a pill that is a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone. This is a medication that can be taken ONLY with a doctor's prescription. She draws the blinds darkening the room and applies a cold compress to her forehead while remaining still.
This almost always does the trick.
How familiar are you with the subject of migraine headache?
Pauline Anderson, Light and Sound Sensitivity in Migraine Explained?, March 19, 2015, Medscape, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/841774
Paula Dumas, "Don't Inhale: "Toxic Smells That Are Migraine Triggers," May 12, 2014, MigraineAgain, https://migraineagain.com/dont-inhale-toxic-smells-that-are-migraine-triggers/
Chris Smith, MD, Blurred Vision Then Numbing In Hand That Moves To Face, update April 2017, SteadyHealth, http://www.steadyhealth.com/topics/bluured-vision-then-numbing-in-hand-that-moves-to-face?page=2
Migraine and Aura, April 23, 2016, American Migraine Foundation, https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/understanding-migraine/migraine-and-aura/
Jacquelyn Cafasso, Migraine Symptoms, August 25, 2016, healthline, http://www.healthline.com/health/migraine-symptoms
Questions & Answers
© 2012 John R Wilsdon