We’ve come a long way in understanding how migraine attacks are tied to certain parts of your brain.
We know that when brain chemicals you need to function, like serotonin and CGRP, are off-balance, that can change how your brain works for a short time before and during your migraine.
BY THE NUMBERS
Nine out of every 10 people
with migraine say their symptoms keep them from doing day-to-day tasks.
Stress is one of the most common triggers for migraine. Keeping stress in check can help keep your brain at ease, which can help head off attacks.
It also helps prevent “let down” migraines -- head pain that can come on after heavy stress goes away.
After one of your migraine triggers hits you, like bright light, stress, or even certain foods or lack of sleep, certain parts of your brain overreact. This extra activity can lead to the head pain that most people with migraine can describe so vividly.
For women, the ups and downs of estrogen can trigger migraine and the head pain that comes with it. That may be why they have migraine attacks about three times more often than men.
HEAD AND NECK
- Dull aching
- “Ice pick in the head”
- Neck pain
- Numbness in parts of the head and face during migraine aura
About Eight in 10 people
with migraine get at least one symptom of something called “allodynia.” That’s when you get pain from things that aren’t usually painful, like:
- Brushing your hair
- Laying your head on a pillow
- Wearing a hat or earrings
Aside from medications, both heat and cold can help ease the pain of migraine. A cool washcloth to the neck can help numb where you hurt.
Or you may need a warm bath or heating pad to help those tense muscles –-- relax. Try both and see which one works better for you.
When one of your migraine triggers comes across your radar, some pathways in your brain misfire for a short time. Some of that can affect how you see and hear things for a little while during aura, before the pain of your migraine hits. It can be a bit jarring, but usually these things will only last about 20 minutes.
EYE AND EAR
40% of people
with migraine say their ears hurt when a migraine strikes.
Most of those with auditory hallucinations say that the sounds they hear are human voices. About 2 out of every 3 people who hear things that aren’t there have depression as well as migraine.
If the way things smell to you seems a bit different just before a migraine comes, it may be from the nerves in your brainstem firing. Some scents may seem too strong, or you may smell things that aren’t there.
Those same nerves can make you feel things normally tied to nasal and sinus problems.
- Sinus pressure and pain
- Stuffy nose
- Smell sensitivity
- Sense of smell hallucinations (you may smell things that are not there)
About 45% of people with migraine say they have sinus symptoms like tearing, runny nose, and nasal congestion during their attacks.
The nasal symptoms of migraine and the symptoms of a sinus problem are so similar that it’s sometimes hard for doctors to tell the difference. If you have sinus symptoms regularly around your migraines, the two may be related.
The irritation of certain areas of your brain that can happen if you have aura with your migraine can make your arms and legs tingle, or feel numb. You might feel this in your fingers or toes, too. Usually, it would only happen only on one side.
- Numbness in arms, legs, fingers, or toes,
usually on one side
- “Sleeping sensation” in arms and legs
1 in 3 people
with migraine says they have tingling and numbness before the pain of their migraine hits.
You may have tingling in a very small, specific body part, like one finger, or even just part of a finger.
Scientists don’t know exactly how yet, but your brain and your gastrointestinal tract are intertwined, and interact with each other in complex ways. You can have digestive issues before your migraine hits, while the attack is happening, or right afterward.
- Food cravings
Nausea is a part of migraine for about
five out of every 10 people
with the disorder.
If you have ever noticed a change in your bowel habits right before a migraine headache, it could be tied to your migraine. It could part of the prodrome, or “preheadache” phase.
LIFE WITH MIGRAINE
“Pain begins in my right eye and spreads over the right side of my head. I also can have a wave of depression with no explanation, and difficulty controlling my temper up to 24 hours in advance.”
Alayne P., 47, Waldo, WI
“It starts as a dull ache behind my eyes. Then the pain spreads; like spikes through my eyes, making every bit of light hurt. The nausea and sensitivity to noise come together, and my head is in a vise. The pain rolls like a wave up and over my head and down my neck.”
Robin B., 44, Round Rock, TX
“Most of my migraines hit while I'm sleeping, so I wake to what feels like a sharp tool lodged in my skull. For up to two days I might have an upset stomach, vision disruption in one eye, sensitive eyes, and problems with my speech. I also have delayed reflexes and senses later on -- a general vacant feeling.”
Jill S., 43, Moline, IL
“My vision becomes very fuzzy, and it's like there’s a filter around my eyes. My view is restricted to two circles with blurry edges. I also get spots in front of my eyes. It can be so bad that I can't write or read. Then the headache comes.”
Jaimie S., 53, Hanover, NH
“If I do nothing and try to power through, the nausea overtakes me and I vomit.”
Caroline H., 54, Raleigh, NC
“My migraines are pretty standard about half the time -- sharp, throbbing pain all around my head, nausea, light sensitivity -- but the other half of the time, they feel like really intense sinus headaches with facial pain and pressure.”
Sarah B., 34, East Haven, CT
“The headaches are concentrated in the back of my head on one side or the other, like someone is squeezing that section of my brain.“
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “How a Migraine Happens.” “Migraine -- More than a Headache,” “Vestibular Migraine.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Migraine Headaches.”
Mayo Clinic: “Migraine with Aura,” “Sinus Headaches,” “Migraine,” “Migraines: Simple steps to head off the pain.”
Migraine.com: “Aura,” “Sinus Migraine,” “Throbbing pain,” “Pain on one side of the head,” “Numbness/Tingling.”
Migraine Research Foundation: “Migraine Facts.”
National Headache Foundation: “Research Finds Connection between Migraine and Gastrointestinal Disorders.”
Harvard Health: “The gut-brain connection,” “Food and migraine: a personal connection.”
The Migraine Trust: “Migraine Diaries,” “Hemiplegic migraine,” “Migraine with brainstem aura,” “Stress and Migraine,” “Understanding Ocular Migraine,” “Sinus Headaches,” “Hemiplegic Migraine,” “The Timeline of a Migraine Attack.”
University of Minnesota Health: “My Migraine Action Plan.”
American Migraine Foundation: “Abdominal Migraine,” “Depression and Anxiety in Migraine Patients,” “Stress and Migraine,” “Understanding Ocular Migraine,” “Sinus Headaches,” “Hemiplegic Migraine,” “The Timeline of a Migraine Attack.”
Cephalalgia: “Auditory hallucinations associated with migraine: Case series and literature review.”
John M. Eisenberg Center for Clinical Decisions and Communications Science: “Treating Severe Migraine Headaches in the Emergency Room: A Review of the Research for Adults.”
Journal of Pain Management and Medicine: “The Chronic Migraineur and Health Services: National Survey Results.”
The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital: “Vestibular Migraine.”