Friday, July 11, 2008

Migraine Headaches

Migraine is a neurological syndrome characterized by altered bodily experiences, painful headaches, and nausea. It is a common condition which affects women more frequently than it does men.

The typical migraine headache is one-sided and pulsating, lasting 4 to 72 hours. Accompanying complaints are nausea and vomiting, and a heightened sensitivity to bright lights (photophobia) and noise (hyperacusis). Approximately one third of people who experience migraine get a preceding aura, in which a patient may sense a strange light or unpleasant smell. Patients often describe triggers they feel precipitate an episode of migraine, such as certain foods and beverages (like chocolate or alcohol), stress or menstruation. In some migraine types there are typical features but the headache remains absent, and in children abdominal pain may be a prominent feature.

Although the exact cause of migraine remains unknown, the most widespread theory is that it is a disorder of the serotonergic control system. Genetic factors may also contribute. Studies on twins show that genes have a 60 to 65% influence on the development of migraine . Fluctuating hormone levels show a relation to migraine in several ways: three quarters of adult migraine patients are female while migraine affects approximately equal numbers of boys and girls before puberty, and migraine is known to disappear during pregnancy in a substantial number of sufferers.

The treatment of migraine begins with simple painkillers for headache and anti-emetics for nausea, and avoidance of triggers if present. Specific anti-migraine drugs can be used to treat migraine. If the condition is severe and frequent enough, preventative drugs might be considered.

The word migraine is French in origin and comes from the Greek hemicrania, as does the Old English term megrim. Literally, hemicrania means "half (the) head".

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