Migraines usually start in childhood or adolescence, are at their worst in the 30’s and 40’s and then decline. Very often they run in families. The classic migraine begins with a warming “aura” – flashing lights in one eye, blurring, blind sports, distortion of vision, and tingling of the arms or face. After about 30-60 minutes the headache begins, usually on one side but sometimes all over. It is a pounding, excruciating pain which usually lasts for four to six hours.
The more common “common migraine” may lack the warning symptoms, and the headache may be far longer lasting.
Cause of Migraine
Attacks may be triggered off by all sorts of thing. Common ones include: food – alcohol in general and red wine in particular, chocolate and caffeine; fasting: stress – strong emotional reactions and fatigue; changes in the weather or altitude; hormonal changes such as those caused by menstruation or taking birth control pills. Slightly more women than men suffer with migraines.
Although the cause is not known, the pain and other symptoms seem to be related to changes in the size of the blood vessels feeding the brain.
Other types of headache: the most fearsome sort are the cluster headaches which happen frequently – daily or several times a week – for weeks or months and then stop for months at a time. They are much more common in men, usually young men. They last for about an hour and the pain is almost exclusively on one side of the head, often around or behind the eye.
The common “tension headaches” which nearly everyone gets sometimes are caused by involuntary tensing of the face and neck muscles over a long period, usually after concentrating hard or because of stress. The pain is a steady ache, which can last for hours or days, around the back of the head and neck, in the forehead, and around the eyes.
How can we help
The link between food and migraine is well established and in some patients can be completely cleared simply by removing the foods which cause an allergic reaction from their diet. The most commonly troublesome ones are: alcohol, cows’ milk, wheat, chocolate, cheese, citrus fruit, and shellfish.
To identify the source of an allergic reaction you should go on an elimination diet and then, when you are symptom free, gradually reintroduce foods to see which produce the problem. You should also include in your diet foods which reduce the amount blood cells stick together – vegetable oils, fish oils, garlic and onion.
Certain vitamins and food supplements have been found to be helpful in cases of migraine. Bioflavonoids are compounds found in green plants which help in the treatment of many diseases. One, called quercetin, reduces inflammation and may help to combat the effects of food allergies.
Some migraine specialists are also recommending high doses of vitamin B2, Riboflavin.
Niacin has the effect of dilating the blood vessels and some studies have found it effective in reducing migraine symptoms. It is not recommended for the treatment of cluster headaches.
Magnesium supplementation may also help. Magnesium occurs naturally in wholemeal bread and cereals, many green vegetables, nuts and seafood.