Migraine headaches are repeated or recurrent headaches, often accompanied by other symptoms. Most people with migraines do not have any warning before it occurs. However, in some people, a visual disturbance called an aura happens before the headache starts.
Migraine without aura
Migraine - classic; Headache - migraine with aura
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Migraine headaches are a common type of chronic headache.
A migraine is caused by abnormal brain activity, which is triggered by stress, food, or something else. The exact chain of events is not known. However, it seems to involve various nerve pathways and chemicals in the brain. The changes affect blood flow in the brain and surrounding membranes.
Migraines occur in women more than men, most often between the ages of 10 and 46 years. In some cases, they appear to run in families.
Migraine attacks may be triggered by:
- Allergic reactions
- Bright lights
- Loud noises
- Physical or mental stress
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke
- Missed meals
- Hormonal fluctuations (related to menstrual cycles or use of birth control pills)
- Other conditions
Foods associated with migraine include:
- Foods containing the amino acid tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, some beans)
- Nuts and peanut butter
- Fruits (avocado, banana, citrus fruit)
- Dairy products
- Baked goods
- Meats containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats)
- Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Any processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated foods
True migraine headaches are not a result of underlying brain tumors or other serious medical problems. However, only an experienced health care provider can determine whether headache symptoms represent migraine or some underlying medical condition that requires further tests. This assessment can only be made after a review of a patient's history and a complete neurological exam.