What is Migraine? (the scientific story)

We talk a lot about migraine here, but it’s time to ask the basic question – what is migraine?  Today we’re going to take a look at some cutting-edge research, and ask the question from a scientific point of view.  When someone has a migraine attack, what exactly is going on?  And what do we mean when we say someone has migraine?

First, a word about the migraine causes.  Everyone wants to know what the root cause is, so that migraine can be attacked at the source.  But this isn’t as easy to discover as you might think.  When we see something happening in the brain, there could be multiple causes, and there could be causes that our technology doesn’t yet allow us to understand.

We’re going to go as deep as we can, but the cause of migraine is still a matter of debate – and it’s likely we still don’t know nearly enough to make a judgement.

A genetic disease?

When asking what is migraine?, migraine researchers want to know why some people get migraine and others don’t.  Genetics seem to be a key here – but they may not be the only key.

For example, one twin may have migraine, and one may not.  That might indicate that migraine is not always genetic.  On the other hand, it may mean that both have the disease, but for an unknown reason it’s not active in one twin.

On the other hand, recent studies have shown a very clear correlation between genetic mutations and some types of migraine (such as familial hemiplegic migraine).  It’s likely that different types of migraine are rooted in different genetic abnormalities – which is another reason the link is hard to nail down.

Genetic abnormalities may, for example, cause ion channels and pumps to malfunction.  Today many researchers suspect that a combination of genetic factors are at least partially behind migraine.  If we ask what is migraine? from a genetic point of view, it has been called a genetically based disease or a common complex polygenetic disorder.

Ion channels, the cerebral cortex and the brain stem

What is migraine?  Migraine is a disease of the brain, and these three players are probably key in the start of a migraine attack.

We know that migraine brains react differently than non-migraine brains.  The brain of a migraineur is hyper-excitable.  It responds differently to stimuli (in other words, we’re not saying a migraine attack is caused by eating the wrong things or being in a stressful situation – there is something about the brain of someone with migraine disease which is fundamentally different, even when an attack is not happening).  But why?

Ion channels are in all living cells, and in the membranes surrounding cells.  Ion pumps are proteins that move ions.  Regulating the flow of ions, they are key in the communication process of your nervous system.  Malfunctions in certain types of ion channels may start the migraine chain-reaction by causing problems in the brain stem and cerebral cortex.  If ion channels are to blame, we might call migraine a channelopathy – a type of disease related to ion channel malfunctions (cystic fibrosis may also be a channelopathy).

We know that migraine symptoms can start in these two parts of the brain, though we’re not sure if ion channels are the root problem.  In the cerebral cortex, a kind of "brain storm" happens which is called a cortical spreading depression (CSD).  A wave of hyperexcitability – an electrical wave – spreads across the outer layer of the brain, releasing neurotransmitters.  Next comes a prolonged period of suppressed activity.  Changes in blood flow occur (first an increase of about 300%, then a decrease to normal or below normal) at this time.

As this storm crosses the brain, it hits certain areas responsible for different sensory perceptions – motor skills, language and vision, for example.  As the storm reaches these parts of the brain, migraineurs experience various types of aura.  At other times, the CSD may miss those parts of the brain, or even occur deeper in the brain, and the same person may have no aura symptoms.

A person who has migraine may be a person who gets these brain storms more easily than the average person.  This could be because of lower levels of chemicals in the brain, and breakdowns of communication in the neurological system (such as in sodium channels).  (see an interesting related study here)

Deeper in the brain there are three clusters of cells that are active during migraine.  These also may be set off by ion channels or the release of serotonin and norepinephrine (two important chemicals in the brain).  The locus coeruleus (in the brain stem), raphe nucleus (which releases serotonin, also in the brain stem) and periaqueductal gray (in the midbrain) are their names.  They control things like alertness, pain sensitivity and perception of sound and light (among other things).  Problems here could cause all kinds of weird migraine symptoms, including the fatigue and heaviness that accompanies migraine, and mood changes.  This could also be a cause of a cortical spreading depression.

Emotions and behaviour can also influence the functioning of the brain stem.  Though these factors alone are unlikely to "cause" migraine, it’s possible that they could make a person more susceptible to an attack.

The chart to the right shows some of the complexity of migraine.  These are some of the possible connections between various functions of the body and the symptoms of migraine.  Some are more likely than others.

Many more could be listed – these are the ones we’re focusing on in this article.

What is migraine?

What is migraine in relation to the trigeminal nerve?

The trigeminal nerve is a cranial nerve that give feeling and movement to the face and other areas such as the mouth, nasal cavity and teeth.  The cell clusters we mentioned, and possibly the CSD, might set off problems in this nerve.

What if problems in the brain stem made you more sensitive to pain, then "turned on" pain in the head?  Sounds like a sadistic type of torture, doesn’t it?  This may be what happens in a migraine attack.  But notice how much we talked about before we even got to nerves and pain.  The headache pain may or may not happen in a migraine attack.  And it is nowhere near the start of the chain reaction.

The story may not end here.  The trigeminal nerve can send signals back to the brain.  Is a migraine attack an ever increasing circle of pain?  These signals sent by the nerve endings may also cause changes in the blood vessels.

Blood vessels

The fact that we’re talking about blood vessels so near the end of this article shows how far our understanding of migraine has come in 20 years!  Two or three decades ago most people thought of migraine as a vascular disease – a disorder related to the blood vessels.  Today we know that changes here are the result of a long chain of events.

Dilation (expanding) of blood vessels and changes in blood flow could be involved in some migraine attacks.  It is also possible that changes in blood flow around the brain could influence aura symptoms.  Though this was the best theory many years ago, today the most likely culprit is the CSD, as we talked about before.

A new theory is suggesting that blood flow itself may play a greater role in neurological communication than we once thought.  If the blood flow is actually part of the process of sending messages in the body, it may play a bigger role in migraine than we now understand – though a totally different role than was believed in the 1970s.


We haven’t talked about migraine triggers, or those things that seem to "set off" the migraine chain reaction in people with migraine.  Eating certain foods, or changing your sleep schedule, is not a cause of the disease, though it may end up in an attack.  Triggers may give us clues about what migraine is.  But some people will never get an attack even with the same stimuli that is likely to cause symptoms in a migraineur.  Triggers may make an attack show up, but the attack will only happen in a person who already has the disease.

So what is migraine?

It’s hard to summarize something as complicated as migraine.  Migraine today is often called a genetically based neurological disease.  Sometimes it’s called neurovascular, because of the importance of both blood vessels and neurological processes in the disease.  We already talked about terms like channelopathy and common complex polygenetic disorder.

Migraine is also probably more than one thing – as we learn more we may start talking about migraine diseases and not just migraine disease.

There is clearly something malfunctioning in the body of someone with migraine.  Migraine is not "imaginary" (it’s a biologically based disease), and it’s not just a bad headache.  After all, almost everyone gets headaches sometimes, but not everyone gets migraine attacks.  What happens during a migraine attack is actually very different from what is happening in the kinds of headache most people get.

What is migraine from a scientific point of view?  Well, a migraine attack is a neurological chain reaction that can completely disable the sufferer.  The disease itself, the cause of migraine, has to do with a breakdown of communication in body.  The drugs and treatments we’re looking at today are often an attempt to either repair the breakdown or stop the "bad messages" from being passed on (and we’ll talk about that another time).

There are pages and pages that could be written on migraine causes, the migraine chain reaction and what migraine is.  There is a lot more that could be included here.  But I hope this will at least give you an idea of where migraine attacks come from.  In future posts we’ll refer back here and expand on the topic.

This information comes from many many sources, but I’m especially indebted to the Scientific American magazine article Why Migraines Strike by David W. Dodick and J. Jay Gargus, Migraine and Other Headaches by Drs Young and Silberstein, and The Migraine Brain by Dr Bernstein.

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53 comments… add one
  • Kelly, Flywithhope Nov 14, 2008

    James, This is an awesome article. I love it. Thank you for explaining all of those things in such a clear and concise manner. Really great.

  • James Nov 14, 2008

    Thanks Kelly – that is an awesome comment! 🙂 I had to wade through a lot of information to complete that article, so I’m glad you found it helpful. 🙂

    • Susan Jan 10, 2011

      Any latest news as I only found this website and noticed this was written in ’09?

  • Fabián Ferreyra Nov 29, 2008

    James, great article! I suffer from migraine and it helps me a lot, at least to explain to other people why I have my attacks from time to time. Is there any problem if I translate this article to spanish, and publish it on my blog? I would give you full attribution, of course. Do you have any license as Creative Commons for your writing? Thanks in advance.

  • Tanya Feb 21, 2009


    I’ve been suffering with migraine for about 18 years. Going on a drip as much as 3 to 4 times a month as well as taking Trepeline and trying out different medication for about 12 years.

    I had Botox done 2 months ago, it has changed my life, I am now down to getting one migraine a month. I wold definately encourage migraine sufferes to try it. I think a true sufferer would try anything. Unfortunately it only lasts four months but its worth it.

  • James Feb 23, 2009

    Thanks for the comments. Fabián, I contacted you – did you get my message?

    Tanya, I’m glad you’ve had some success with Botox! I hope it continues to help. Be sure to update us in a few months. 🙂

  • hafiz Mar 1, 2009

    hi james, this is a detailed article on migraine and it help me alot to know about migraine, i am suffring from this curse since last 22 years and now as i know more about it, it hurts me less then it does before.

  • kasia Mar 11, 2009

    I am a migraine sufferer myself. I would take up 100 pills a month and then my GP suggested Trepeline 10mg and it has CHANGED MY LIFE. I have been on it a month and i already notice a difference. It is an anti depressant but they longer use it for that, in addition 10mg is just enough to relax your muscles.
    Very happy with the new discovery 🙂

  • Patrice Marotta Mar 23, 2009

    Hi James,
    This article should go out to everyone who has ever said, ” oh it’s just a headache.” I am a migraine sufferer since I was a child I am now 46. Doctors have had me on everything and anything that they thought would help. Migraines for me numb my face and lock my jaw. I had to get off Topomax since it was raising my blood pressure. The so called ” trigger” foods and such don’t always apply as we now know. My migraines will last for days even with taking Imitrex or Treximet. I had to go on disability because i am not reliabe to work. I want people to know out there this is a serious disease. In October I went for an MRI scan of the brain and although no tumors were found, they told me I had what is called, Grey Matter Disease which is common in migraine sufferers. When I am migraine free it is great, but this disease has robbed me of things I would love to do. I cannot drive long distances because it will trigger migraines. I am also the type of person who eats all the right foods, take vitamins, and excersise when the migraines will allow. You cannot plan anything because I never know how the day will be. Thank you for this website and articles I know I am not alone with this illness.

    • Sandy Mar 24, 2011

      I can relate to my migranes are running my life. I also cant do much cause it triggers a headache. Driving, exercise, walking, riding, anything triggers mine. I have a headache everyday, but not a migrane. I have at least 5 to 8 migranes a month. I take 100 T3s a month for the smaller tension headaches and imitrex for the migranes and amitrpillan every day. I am so sick of having a headache. Then you start throwing up and man that just adds horriblely to my pain, and then the dry heaves wow just shoot me . I really wish we could find help or better yet cure for these. No one but people with migranes understands the horrible pain of one. Keep us all informed of new things to try.
      Take care everyone

  • DJ Mar 26, 2009

    I have just been diagnised with atypical migraines. I lost my speech in a recent attack that sent me to the ER thinking I was having a stroke. This article has helped to inform me about what is happening in my brain. Since that attack I have suffered from a perpetual headache that is only slightly diminished with Fioricet. Thanks for all the info.

  • Dale May 10, 2009

    After my hysterectomy in 1993, I have been migraine “active” since then. Before my surgery, headaches were only 2 or 3 times a year. In the last couple of years, I have had chronic migraines. Some meds. that I have tried are only good if I take them when I get the first symptoms before the migraine starts. My biggest problem is getting a migraine in the middle of the night and waking up with a full-fledged episode! By then, the meds. pretty much don’t effectively stop the pain. My mother had really bad migraines all her life and stopped getting them altogether when she reached 80 years. I’m hoping that I don’t have to wait that long before I can find something that can manage these migraines. I have become quite frustrated in recent years….sigh. Thank you so much for this great website!!!

    • Ben Apr 6, 2013

      Are you on hormone therapy since your hysterectomy? It is completely typical for women to have migraine 3 times as often when compared to men, so you may have actually done yourself harm by removing the source of the hormones that were actually regulating your frequency somewhat. The problem is that while migraines as a disease may act as a uniform physiological event when it is activated in the human body, however; it is more than clear that all human beings are different and we each have a different makeup. Speak to your HHCP and ask her/him if they think it would be acceptable to try with your current condition and medication regiment. Good luck!

  • Barbara Jul 8, 2009

    Thank you for this article. My daughter has had horrible migraines for almost 20 years now. She has seen so many doctors and taken so many medications but if something works (and very few have), it only helps for a very short time and then no more. She was on homebound for school and couldn’t go with her friends to things like ball games, dances, movies, etc. The friends fell away until they are all gone. For the past 10 years her headaches have been so horrible and constant 24/7. Her quality of life is just awful as she is home either in bed on in the lounge chair most of the time. She used to love to read but she feels so awful that isn’t possible anymore. As I said she is homebound and on disability and lives with me and I am usually the only person she sees.

  • Rashmi Aug 3, 2009

    Its a very detailed article. Thank you
    Am also a Migraine sufferer for past 15 years. Though it is not as sever as some of the people have mentioned above, it does stop me from doing any work and all I end up doing is sleeping. I rarely take medicines for it and sleep through the headace. I have a 11/2 year old daughter. Am during my pregnancy and few months after delivery, I rarely got any migraine. I was almost happy that I was cured. But now again it is back. I am now trying out Yoga. Let us see if it will help me out.

  • Sucheta Aug 30, 2009

    Hi Everyone!
    My Migraine started with a blind spot when I was in 8th grade. I used to get severe migraine attacks like lightning, vision disturbance and vomitting I started drinking 5 glasses of water daily morning after I got up by this severe attacks stopped. Now I get only mild headaches and after taking Antacids and pain killers it stops so no worry. I am fine.

  • James Dec 10, 2009

    Thanks so much for your kind comments, and the great information you’re adding to the conversation!

  • Holly Feb 14, 2010

    I have suffered from migraine for most of my adult life. My father had them, and his father, born in Norway, had them.

    While researching the family tree, I made contact with a second cousin in Norway. She said that my grandpa’s sister (in Norway) had migraine, as did my great grandmother! AND many of my other cousins (from that bloodline in Norway) also have them.

    It just happens that I was able to trace my family tree, through this great grandmother, back to a very vicious Norwegian Viking king. Hmmm….I wonder if ALL migraineurs might be descendants of this same Viking king, and that we all are paying for his evil deeds??? It seems like an explanation for the genetic component of these “demons.”

    • Cindy Dalton Mar 26, 2012

      That’s a very interesting theory about the Viking king, Holly! As far as I know, there are no Scandinavian ancestors in my bloodline, but there are many, many migraineurs. We have German, Scottish, Welsh, and Cherokee ancestry, but my husband has predominantly Viking ancestry. Maybe he’s paying for the sins of his fathers by having to take care of me. I suffer at least 2 Hemiplegic Migraines per week and cannot move my right side. What a terrible legacy for him and myself.

  • Camilla Wilson Apr 16, 2010

    I have just been diagnosed as a migraine sufferer. For the last 3 months I have been getting headaches, daily. Most of the time they don’t put me completely out of action, but they cause a huge amount of discomfort. As of yesterday I was put on 25mg of trepeline. I have been reading up this morning and see that it is an anti depressant and also causes substantial weight gain. I am VERY unhappy about taking a mood altering drug. Please can you advise me.

    • Kerry Aug 8, 2010

      I’d suggest you take drugs as a last resort. I have had great success with regular visits to my chiropractor, eliminating any form of caffeine out of my diet including all chocolate and coffee. I have also increased my filtered water intake to abbot 1 to 2 kites a day.

  • Seth Kaplan Apr 29, 2010

    Interesting article! You touch on some areas new to me. There is another chain of events, though, that you do not mention. It’s especially interesting because of your statement that migraine “triggers” may simply activate an already-predisposed system to start the migraine cascade, as opposed to being the cause of the migraine in an otherwise normal system. While this is a legitimate distinction, I am not sure, as an experienced migraneur, that is a meaningful distinction. Still, here is what I learned years ago from a neurologist in my area: when you miss a meal, doze, eat an inappropriate food like chocolate, etc., the brain receives a signal via the trigeminal nerve (the largest nerve in the body, running from the brain through each side of the face into the chest cavity) which instructs it to “dump” serotonin. I have felt this unmistakably upon waking from an ill-planned nap. The serotonin leaves the brain and looks for a place to “hide.” Its hiding place of choice are the receptor cells in the gut (there are receptor cells throughout the body, but serotonin favors those in the gut). If allowed to remain there undisturbed for :30 minutes or more, these cells react to the serotonin by releasing dopamine. The dopamine travels up the torso; upon arriving in the brain, the migraine cascade–the electrical storm to which you referred in your article–starts, and the migraineur’s suffering begins.
    That :30-minute window I mentioned, though, opens the way for relief! An old medication, an anti-histamine called cyproheptadine (a.k.a. Periactin), blocks the receptor sites when taken within the :30-minute period. As a result, when the serotonin arrives to hide, the sites are occupied, so the serotonin returns from whence it came. The feeling is one of warmth; it’s a real rush as the serotonin flows back up the trunk. A side benefit are the vivid dreams one has that night. Periactin can also make one feel slightly loopy; a small price to pay for evading a migraine.
    Let me know your thoughts!

    • Mar Nov 24, 2010

      That old medication sounds like an intersting remedy, considering it’s side benefits of vivid dreams. = D

      My sister is a migraineur unfortunately, though I’m not. Based on your description it might suggest that it’s best to take in this ‘old medicine’ upon waking up, and within that 30mins window?

  • Kerry Jun 16, 2010

    My husband of 49 years had his first migraine yesterday and he is having another one today. It appears to be co-inciding with changes having occurred with going to the chiropractor last week (total of 2 visits). He has never been to the chiropractor in his life before now and now all of a sudden he has had 2 migraines in 2 days. Both have had aura and then the headache & nausea. Yesterday he took paracetamol and slept it off, and is doing the same today. If your brain is so-called pre-disposed then I don’t understand how this can happen. Somehow the adjustments (which he commenced due to sciatic pain down both legs) have triggered his migraines or….he has also been exposed to a recent flu-like virus but hasn’t really had flu symptoms except a slight sore throat one day and a bit of nasal congestion. Has anybody else experienced this sudden onset after chiropractic manipulation and at this mid stage of life (49)?

  • Valerie James Aug 3, 2010

    I’ve had severe migraine without aura (though I have had them) for 20 years. Muscle pain and weakness I also have was diagnosed as a channelopathy at Cleveland Clinic. I’ve learned a lot about my body, headaches, serotonin, what happens with it during migraine and it’s relationship to the gastrointestinal system.

    A person has to learn all the possible migraine trigger foods and avoid all those that do cause headache in you. You can’t avoid them if you don’t know all the possible foods and additives. For instance, monosodium glutamate causes migraine for me, but there are numerous additives in food that are chemically similar enough to almost be the same thing or that have msg in them, such as autolysed yeast, ‘natural flavorings’ (always suspect, msg is considered ‘natural’), hydrolyzed protein, and there are many more.

    Any restaurant that doesn’t cook to order (from scratch, usually the more expensive restaurants), usually sells meat that comes to the restaurant ‘pre-seasoned’ and may cause migraine in susceptible people. Msg-like chemicals are in everything from salad dressing, to nuts. You have to know what could cause migraine and then read labels. I don’t eat meat in a restaurant, and am taking a chance to eat their salad dressing. I know the brands that do have msg and always ask if their dressing is made in the kitchen or is that brand.

    Daily migraine is hard to treat once a person has it. I find that I have to stop stomach acid release for a while in order to stop it. I have to avoid getting hot at all. If I do migraine happens without fail. Love to garden so have to go out around dawn in the summer. Can’t get too cold for very long either as I get vascular spasm that causes headache too. Don’t get hormonal migraine, but sympathize with the women who do.

    Migraine is a serious disease. Those who have it should be treated with respect when they seek medical care. Seek a doctor who specializes in migraine if you can. It’s worth a trip to a medical center where you can find such a specialist if possible.
    Take good care of yourself. Love to all.

  • Kerry Aug 8, 2010

    An update. My husband has continued his chiropractic visits twice a week and the migraines haven’t returned. His sciatic pain is getting much better.

  • Rose Oct 26, 2010

    I recieve a different type of migraine and wondered if anyone has heard of it. I am not really sure if it is a migraine, but that’s the closest I can put it to. Its like an electrical shock in the brain. Its like if you think of two wires in the brain that are not connected and when the charge comes it doesn’t connect and expIodes in the brain. I get a sharp pain for only about two or three seconds, then it goes away. I get them very frequently, sometimes five times a day. I get it a lot more when I walk.

  • Susan Jan 10, 2011

    I read all the blobs – Dale’s interested me the most as now my Migraines begin at night/early in morning w/neck pain – searing pain in the occiptacal (sp) nerve – I also have been on many, many meds – the only one that stops the attack is the Imetrix injection. Like Dale, I wonder about a life-time of this. I may be the oldest blogger – I’m 71, happy, energetic person who has had migraines all my life (and I mean all my life!). The old song paraphrased “I feel so good, when I don’t have pain” is my mantra. I never feared anything as much as these headaches and the thoght that one would continue and never end is almost happening now. as now I have them very frequently – 4/5 times a week, sometimes every day/night.At the advise of my family doctor (not my neurologist) I started seeing a chiro; about a 25-40% improvement in frequency. I’ve never written a blog – but all you inspired me and especially this article. Thank you my familar friends.

  • Stacie Debevec Feb 11, 2011

    Good Evening Everyone! I hope this finds everyone going into the weekend Migraine Free 🙂 I have had Migraines for going on 21 years; officially diagnosed 20 years this April and I will be 31 in March…As for mantra’s, mine is – “Too young to feel this D**N Old” 🙂
    Susan and Dale your comments about searing neck pain remind me of me about 5-6 years ago. My Migraines; almost always on one side only, right or left; would start at my eye and go all the back behind my head and nearly freeze my neck muscles to the point where I couldn’t even turn my neck to check my blind spot while driving! I starting getting Occipital Nerve Blocks; first by my old PCP and now by my WONDERFUL Neurologist. For me it is a mixture of Kenalog (Steroid) and Marcaine (Local Anesthetic). They usually last anywhere from 3-4 months and believe me I can tell when its time for my next injection! They basically “stop” my Migraine pain at the top/middle part of my Occipital region and give me back control of my neck! I may have a muscle knot the size of a quarter (as I did this last time) and as soon as I got the injection…knot gone!
    I also do the Botox injections and am VERY LUCKY that I am able to get them covered by my insurance (pre-authorization was required) although it shouldn’t be as hard to get the treatment covered by insurance now that the FDA has approved it as a Migraine Treatment; Score 1 for all the Migraine sufferers 🙂 The treatment helps a lot; for me it stopped the muscle twitching that I got around my eyes, cut down on the frequency and help with trigger control, but when the barometric pressures goes crazy and I’m more sensitive to it now, the migraines I do get are really intense, but I’m not getting 5-10 a week only 1-2(bad week) Unless Mother Nature is going crazy!
    Since I also have Fibromyalgia (and all of its LOVELY related maladies) which I was diagnosed with in July 07′ I have found GOOD Chiropractic to be SO helpful and the link between and bad migraine week and a good one can be if I have had my neck, shoulders and hips adjusted and properly aligned. Also in my Chiropractor’s office is a Wonderful massage therapist who is Trained and Certified (Very Important) in Trigger Point Massage Therapy. This type of massage works on the trigger points for Fibromyalgia and Migraine such as in the neck and shoulder region and in the face, specifically your jaw muscles. You will be sore after this massage but also very relaxed (I know weird combo) I felt better even though I was sore; I just drank plenty of water and took some IBU.
    I hope some of my experience has helped, I have been through the ringer with every type of treatment out there; including every type of drug and drug combo. I am so sad that Midrin is no longer on the Market since the company producing one of the components (the dichlorophenazone) is no longer making it since it was the only thing that I could take and it worked for me for 15 years! I am allergic to the tryptan class, the ergot’s and anything with DHE so I’m down to unfortunately narcotics.
    Good Luck everyone and I wish everyone a Migraine Free Weekend 🙂 Love and Hugs,

  • Dale Feb 14, 2011

    Thank you Stacie for your valuable information. Not only do I have the migraine pain but I also have fibromyalgia which was diagnosed 18 years ago. Just seems like everything is related. One of the weirdest symptoms lately (the past 5 yrs.) has been getting a migraine on my right side of my head…then have a day with no pain (actually feel great) THEN on the 3rd day it hits me on my left side! This really makes me think that my issues have to do with a chemical/hormonal problems. I am going to a new doctor (homeopathic who is highly recommended here in Las Vegas) in the next couple of weeks. I want to try HRT because I know that I am deficient hormonally since my hysterectomy back in 1993. When I was pregnant years ago, progestrone levels were high of course and I felt better than I ever felt. We shall see how that goes. My mom suffered with migraines until she was 80. When she was put on blood pressure meds her migraines went away…! I will check into that as well. We have so many options that sometimes its exasperating to find the therapy that will work for us. Sigh! If I find something new I will definitely blog about it. Thanks again, Stacie!

  • Sam Nicholls Mar 3, 2011

    Very good and re-assuring. I was very distressed when I saw my red eye and keep getting these headaches on one side. They don’t have the same symptoms each time and have resulted in hospitalisation when I couldn’t see or face light whatsoever. I become very confused and need to sleep. It is good to know I am not alone as I don’t know anyone else who gets migraines just bad headaches and they don’t understand.

  • Valerie Mar 26, 2011

    Med that has HELPED ME SO MUCH…I went to a neurologist because of having migraine so easily, I couldn’t seem to prevent getting one every day. He gave me Zonagran 50 mg. I took it 3 days and stopped because (I have a terrible time getting enough sleep anyway) I couldn’t sleep much at all.

    In only the 3 days I took Zonagran it made a huge difference in my headaches. They barely hurt at all now, I get them a lot less often, and when I do I can get over them more easily. And this after 20 years of terrible 3 day migraines.

    Visited this doctor again recently. He gave me a script for 25 mg of Zonagran and said the sleep problems eventually go away. I doubt they would for me, but I do plan to take Zonagran every once in a while just to see if my headaches get even better, or at least to keep myself as well off as I am now after only 3 days of this med.

    I hope this helps someone. I know how terrible migraine can be.

  • khusnil Mar 30, 2011

    i used to have migraines alot when i was growing up as a teenager. i am now 29 and my migraine has disappered. i learnt how to first of all take into account what causes my headaches. i have noticed when i would get migraines i have those auras. but when i look back at how i started out my day, it explaines very clearly how it was triggered. breakfast, good breakfast, and if are have tea or coffee, not drinking for a day will definetly give you headache as explained (withdrawal symptoms). when blood sugar reduces significanlty when havn’t eaten will give you a headache so significant that it will make you sick. the fat metabolites are very big in size compared to sugar metabolites that it causes pain when it is crossing the blood brain barrier, another cause of headache when “the body is fasted” of food. prolonged fastness will give rise to significant pain.

    i made sure that i have at least 1cup of tea everyday, (mornings only) and good breakfast. my headaches have gone for ever, unless it is fever or stress related.

    analgesics in combination with codeine helps but must be taken before full migraine takes place, otherwise this drug will not be effective as the body goes into a mode of sedation when migraine has taken place and so the stomach doesnot absorb the drug making it ineffective. if you dont want codiene based products, i have found relief with NSAIDs such as ibuprofen 200mg, just as effective.

  • Ariel Sep 25, 2011

    Amazing article, I’m only 20 yrs old and on seizure medication for my daily migraines and they still come back. Thanks for letting me understand my pain a lot better. Again, very well written, constructed and educating article.

  • shibha Dec 9, 2011

    nice details it giveme a lot of knowledge abt disease

  • Dawn Apr 1, 2012

    Alot of very good information. I have suffered from migraines for 25 yrs. I can relate to most everyone here. This disease has robbed me of many things I love to do and many events I have had to miss because of my migraines. When you suffer from migraines on a weekly basis it effects your quality of life. It’s also hard to keep a job, because I am not reliable to work. I also have fibromyalgia. I can get a migraine without warning, certain smells like, purfumes, car exhaust, etc. I also get migraines with warnings, my vision gets weird, hands & face go numb, light & noise sensitive amoung others. Also the barometric pressure and I get them every month before my period, They have gotten worse now that I’m pre-menopause. But the good news is my Dr. says that they “should” get better after I’ve gone through menopause. I hope she’s right. I can not take the typical drugs that are prescribed for migraines because the side effects. Some of the drugs have put me in the hospital. The only thing I can use that works is called Fiorinal, it’s a barbiturate, you have to be carful taking it! Use as prescribed! I call them my “magic pills”. I also take Ambien to help me sleep when I have a really bad one otherwise I’d lay awake all night in pain.

  • JOHAN Sep 24, 2012

    Hi James, great article. now i know a little more about the migraines i get. Im a 27y old white male, been suffering from migraines since i was 16(first symptoms of the disease) i have tried everything on the market and lately i found that its getting more sever, last week it influenced my speech for the first time. i am reading up alot about migraines as i believe and know it can cause great havoc in your life. is it maybe possible to email me and send me more info on migraines, i am based in JOhannesburg, South Africa, I started eating healthier, going to the gym etc, but i found that my migraines get more sever now. Can it cause more severe havoc in my life in the future, i also believe there can be no cure for it? Anyway, i would appreciate your feedback.

  • MIK Oct 24, 2012

    Hi ,
    Fellow sufferers , lots of info on migraine Thanks ! But all of us don’t have the same type and cause of migraine I guess.
    I have been suffering from this since 25 yrs right from when i was a kid. Use to get it mostly after sports activities and with changes in sudden temp .
    In short want to share what I have learned with experience – stay hydrated as much as possible avoid MSG as said by others and also similar additives.Yoga and breathing exercises help a lot.One of the main culprits is the Bile our body produces , need to get rid of this regularly by self inducing vomit once in a while in the morning after drinking only water .
    People could also get an attack due to the sinus blocks which can happen coz of temp changes.
    I am not on any medication and for me the best remedy is to induce vomit after the attack is on – don’t have the explanation as to why but it gives a quick relief and the attack stops – It does take some time for the tingling pain to vanish but the aura and the throbbing stops after this which is what we want.
    As we all know there is no 100% cure or reason for getting an attack , we just do and share what we feel can make a difference and help others and ourselves.
    One of the docs I visited did tell me that people with Migraine have higher chances of getting a paralytic attack…hmm but on the other side someone also told me that people with migraine are the smarter lot >>>> 🙂 🙂
    May God help us all !

  • Sara Aug 21, 2014

    Hi all,
    I know this thread is old but I want to share something. I am a migraine sufferer, and so was my father. Don’t get me wrong, my father is alive and kicking, but he simply stopped having migraines after he had a small stoke (that fortunately did not leave bad lasting effects)! 25 years have passed since the stroke, and sometimes he even says that he “feels” he should be having a migraine, but he never has it. I keep telling him he should donate his brain to science, because whatever caused his migaines died during that stroke. Sometimes I almost wish I had such a stroke myself…

  • Amiri Feb 1, 2015

    I had migraine headache since 16 years old and now I am 38, at that time I did not know what causes the migraine, but lately I find out that it is relating to food sensitivities mostly those fruits, vegetable and foods which increase acids such as orange family. so best on my understanding and experience, it directly relates to the stomach and digestion system.

  • Jill Apr 23, 2015

    James, excellent article! One of the most comprehensive that I’ve read. Awesome job! I’ve suffered with migraines since my late teens and I am in my early 40s now. Been there, done that, tried many things, and still looking for a good treatment. Keep up the great work bringing us news and info!

  • Becky Jun 12, 2015

    Very good article…I’d be curious to know of any new findings.

    I’ve been a migraine sufferer for 40 years (on and off); sometimes going for years without one only to start getting the twice a week. I’ve tried medications with limited success and nasty side effects. About a year ago, during an upswing in frequency, I started taking Feverfew (the product is MigraFew and is available online). Since taking one small pill a day, my migraines (with headache) are now down to one every six months or so. I recently suffered an aura only migraine which prompted research and led me to this article, though still debilitating at least I wasn’t writhing in pain.

    Thank you!

  • Denise Jul 17, 2016

    I am now 60 years old and started getting debilitating migraines about 12 years ago. I have classic migraine. I need to be in bed with no noise, no odors, darkness only for 72 hours. I will have severe vomiting during that time. After the 72 hours is over I am very week but with 1 or 2 days I am back to normal and feeling great. Then about 4-6 weeks will pass and then the beast will return and I am in misery for another 72 hours. Does anyone else suffer from this cycle (72 hours sick and then okay for 4-6 weeks)?
    I just wonder why it is so cyclical for me and what is happening every 4-6 weeks in my system that causes the migraine to return. I have tried many medications and even the Imitrex shots with no success. I don’t know how much longer I can take this pain.
    Thank you for any feedback.

  • judy goldstein Aug 20, 2016

    I knew quite a bit of this information and I am waiting for the newest drug with the calcitonin component that would stop our brains from sending us the pain messages. I have had migraines for forty-three years. I will probably die with them. They switched from hormone-related to daily chronic after I went through the change. My life is filled with pain. I take what works for me (Zomig) and channel blockers and pain relievers. I eat nothing that is a trigger. I have a wish: that I may spend ten pain-free years on this earth before I die.
    Genetics played a huge part in the disease for me. My father’s side of the family are riddled with migraine, going way back. Being a migraineur, in the vernacular, sucks. I hope that these trials that are in 2b will end soon and that the newest drug makes it to the marketplace AND that insurance will pay for it. Ha! They will fight us tooth and nail. Thank you for your very well-explained article. I have lived through the vascular theory and have evolved with the latest brain storm thoughts. This makes the most sense. The problem lies so deep within us, that only the surface has been scratched so far. Thanks again.

  • jonathan Nov 19, 2016

    thanks a lot for wrighting this. have been trying for years now get at least an idea as to what has been going on with my brain and may have finally found at least a possibility because every time I get extremely depressed it feels like my brain is short circuiting. then emotionally I go numb for an indefinite period of time and my speech slows to the point its hard to talk. after a while it goes back to normal and that’s when the migraines kick into full gear, accompanied by nausea and neck pain. this part opened my mind to what it might be thank you so much. ”We know that migraine symptoms can start in these two parts of the brain, though we’re not sure if ion channels are the root problem. In the cerebral cortex, a kind of “brain storm” happens which is called a cortical spreading depression (CSD). A wave of hyperexcitability – an electrical wave – spreads across the outer layer of the brain, releasing neurotransmitters. Next comes a prolonged period of suppressed activity. Changes in blood flow occur (first an increase of about 300%, then a decrease to normal or below normal) at this time.” describes a lot of what I feel right here

  • chris Aug 30, 2017

    this article gave me a better understanding of what a migraine actually is as I have been suffereing with this for about ten years now. my mother suffers from them as well so maybe is something that can be passed on, as horrible as that sounds. anyone who suffers from this I feel for you as it is horrible and debilitating. thank you for the information.

  • judy goldstein Sep 5, 2017

    The genetic component of my mirgraines was soon evident when I was diganosed over 45 years ago. At that time, the migraines were triggered once a month by female hormones. But then I went through ” the change”, and the migraines changed as well to Daily Chronic. I still need to take one Triptain a day and I am Botoxed. So although I still get the migraine each day, it is less painful. However, the fact that I am now 75 and still suffering from DCM is indeed discouraging. I can only live with them because they do not last a whole day UNLESS we are in a low pressure system. That is a whole other kettle of fish. I knew before about my brain being hyperactive, and many odors will trigger me as well. Good luck to you all. A new drug, an injection you receive from your doctor (neurologist) every three months, is in stage 3 under FDA supervision. Calcitonin is inolved. Let us hope we can all get some relief if the drug makes it safely to the market. Judy G.

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