Theories about migraine pain
Older theories about migraines suggested that symptoms were possibly due to fluctuations in blood flow to the brain. Now many headache researchers realize that changes in blood flow and blood vessels do not initiate the pain, but may contribute to it.
Current thinking regarding migraine pain has moved more toward the source of the problem, as improved technology and research have paved the way for a better understanding. Today, it is widely understood that chemical compounds and hormones, such as serotonin and estrogen, often play a role in pain sensitivity for migraine sufferers.
One aspect of migraine pain theory explains that migraine pain occurs due to waves of activity by groups of excitable brain cells, which trigger chemicals, such as serotonin to constrict blood vessels. Serotonin is a chemical necessary for communication between nerve cells. It can cause constriction or narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body.
When serotonin or estrogen levels change, the result for some is a migraine. Serotonin levels may affect both sexes, while fluctuating estrogen levels affect women only.
For women, estrogen levels naturally vary over the life cycle, with increases during fertile years and decreases afterwards. Women of childbearing age also experience monthly changes in estrogen levels. Migraines in women are often associated with these fluctuating hormone levels and may explain why women are more likely to have migraines than men.
Some research suggests that when estrogen levels rise and then fall, this may trigger contractions in blood vessels, leading to throbbing pain. Other data suggest that lower levels of estrogen make facial and scalp nerves more sensitive to pain.
What commonly triggers a migraine?
People who get migraines may be able to identify triggers that seem to start the onset of symptoms. Some possible triggers include the following:
Stress and other emotions
Biological and environmental conditions, such as hormonal shifts or exposure to light
Glaring or flickering lights
The American Headache Society suggests documenting triggers in a headache diary. Taking this information with you when you visit your doctor enables your health care provider to identify headache management strategies.
What Do You Know About Headaches?When you get a headache, it's ...Headaches Quiz ►
Acetaminophen, Aspirin, Caffeine Oral powder
Acetaminophen, Aspirin, Caffeine Oral tablet
Valproic Acid Oral capsule(1)
Sumatriptan Succinate, Naproxen Sodium Oral tablet
Propranolol Hydrochloride Oral capsule, extended-release
Metoprolol Succinate Oral tablet, extended-release
Divalproex Sodium Oral capsule, sprinkles
Butalbital, Acetaminophen, Caffeine Oral solution
Zolmitriptan Nasal spray
Timolol Maleate Oral tablet
Propranolol Hydrochloride Solution for injection
Propranolol Hydrochloride Oral solution
Propranolol Hydrochloride Oral tablet
Nadolol Oral tablet
Metoprolol Tartrate Solution for injection
Metoprolol Tartrate Oral tablet
Atenolol Solution for injection
Atenolol Oral tablet
Ergotamine Tartrate Sublingual tablet
Dihydroergotamine Mesylate Nasal spray
Dihydroergotamine Mesylate Solution for injection
Ergotamine Tartrate, Caffeine Rectal suppository
Ergotamine Tartrate, Caffeine Oral tablet
Butalbital, Aspirin, Caffeine, Codeine Phosphate Oral capsule
Butalbital, Acetaminophen, Caffeine, Codeine Phosphate Oral capsule
Naproxen Oral suspension
Naproxen Oral tablet, delayed-release
Zolmitriptan Oral disintegrating tablet
Zolmitriptan Oral tablet
Sumatriptan Nasal spray
Sumatriptan Succinate Solution for injection
Sumatriptan Succinate Oral tablet
Rizatriptan Benzoate Oral tablet
Rizatriptan Benzoate Oral disintegrating tablet
Naratriptan Hydrochloride Oral tablet
Frovatriptan Oral tablet
Eletriptan Hydrobromide Oral tablet
Almotriptan Malate Oral tablet
Nimodipine Oral capsule
Valproic Acid Oral solution
Valproate Sodium Solution for injection
Valproic Acid Oral capsule
Butorphanol Tartrate Nasal spray
Butorphanol Tartrate Solution for injection