Migraine headache – Causes and diagnosis

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A migraine headache is a unilateral headache, the symptoms of which include nausea, vomiting and increased ocular, aural and nasal sensitivity. A migraine headache attack is recurrent in nature and as the person grows older the attacks also increase in severity.


Causes of migraine

There is no cut and dried cause for migraine. It is thought that migraines are a result of various reactions taking place in the central nervous system. These reactions are either a result of bodily changes or of the changing environment. At times, migraines are a result of family history suggesting that people suffering from this condition have inherited their sensitivity to various triggers that cause their migraine. The triggers lead to an inflammation of the blood vessels and nerves around the scalp and the brain, which in turn leads to migraine headaches.
Some of the migraine triggers include alcohol, exertion, food containing caffeine, stress, specific prescription and over-the-counter medications and hormonal changes (especially in women).
Migraine headaches differ from tension headaches
Headaches are a highly complex medical condition. In order to get the right treatment for your headache, it is of paramount importance that you identify the kind of headache that you are suffering from. Take the case of migraine headaches and tension headaches. They are two very different types of headaches. So, their treatment plan is also different from one another. An interesting fact is that you can suffer from migraine headaches and tension headaches at the same time. A migraine headache is characterized by its unilateral nature, meaning a person usually has pain on only one side of the head whereas a tension headache is usually bilateral; pain is experienced on both sides of the head. A migraine headache can also be identified on the brunt of its symptoms with include nausea, vomiting and a lack of tolerance for sound and smell; tension headaches have no such symptoms. Some people suffering from migraine headaches experience an aura just before the onset of pain. But, 90% of all headaches are tension headaches. Migraine headache are not as common as tension headaches.
Diagnosis of migraine headaches

The history of a patient’s symptoms helps doctors make a correct diagnosis with regard to migraine headaches. But symptoms alone are not an indication of migraine. A comprehensive physical examination and neurological tests are also a part of the process of diagnosis. These tests are conducted to exclude other neurological or cerebrovasuclar conditions like cerebral stroke, dilation of cerebral blood vessels, bleeding within the skull etc. Neuro-imaging is one of the many diagnostic tests that might be conducted on the patient. Doctors search for specific ‘red flags’ that show beyond doubt that the person is suffering from migraine. If the investigation reveals that the symptoms and tests do not fit into the ‘benign’ headache category, doctors begin to zero in on migraine as the cause of headache.

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