June is Migraine Awareness month and I want to bring awareness to those that have it and those that do not about what are the causes and triggers of migraines to educate and possibly help improve them. Migraines are a complex, multifactorial neurovascular disorder with heightened sensory sensitivity. So what does that mean?

A migraine is a type of headache and a lot of people will use the term “migraine” to describe a headache but it is more than just a simple headache. Yes both have a neurovascular component so both involve blood vessels and nerves, as well as sometimes the muscles in our neck. Migraines go a little bit more beyond than just that. So with the neurovascular component you have the primary nerve, the trigeminal nerve which starts in our brainstem. “Tri” means three so it branches into our forehead, cheek, and jaw.

At the base of our skull where the brainstem lies, the trigeminal nerve will send signals to our blood vessels in our dura. The dura is the covering over the brain, so when signals are sent to the blood vessels, they end up dilating. So they open up releasing a lot of neurotransmitters and chemicals. These signals will be sent back down to the brainstem and up to the main center of our brain where our hypothalamus and thalamus is located to send signals to the major part of the cortex to tell our brain that “ouch” there’s pain.

When this happens, this is something called Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD) so there is this depolarization or change in electrical charge across the brain that starts this whole complex. Basically when someone has a migraine, the symptoms are throbbing, one sided head pain from the trigeminal nerve. They will usually feel pain in the temple, forehead, jaw, and base of the skull. Other symptoms associated are nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and this heightened sensitivity component which doesn’t occur with just a regular headache. People with migraines are sensitive to light, touch, sound, and smell. Typically you’ll see someone with a migraine in a dark room, they don’t want to be around smells or sometimes don’t want to be touched because all their symptoms are heightened.

So this is the main differences between just a headache and migraine. If you know someone that wants to know more information about migraines, please feel free to share!

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