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What Happens When A Migraine Occurs

Our Free Guide Gives You 5 Tools For Every Day Migraine Prevention

What happens to your brain during a migraine – Marianne Schwarz

Holly Hazen is the creator of Migraine Savvy. Her guidance is guaranteed to give you more confidence in your ability to prepare for that next attack and recover faster. Learning resilience and coping skills now will pay off forever!

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Whats A Migraine What Does A Migraine Feel Like

A migraine is a common neurological disease that causes a variety of symptoms, most notably a throbbing, pulsing headache on one side of your head. Your migraine will likely get worse with physical activity, lights, sounds or smells. It may last at least four hours or even days. About 12% of Americans have this genetic disorder. Research shows that its the sixth most disabling disease in the world.

Your Er Doctor May Or May Not Be Very Familiar With Migraine

Watch a few episodes of Greys Anatomy, and it will become clear. Youre not going to get a board-certified headache specialist, or even a neurologist, in your local ER. After all, theyre trained to set a broken arm, remove a bullet and shock your heart. Stat!

I was taken to the ER in an ambulance with Migraine Aura, thinking I was having a stroke because half of my tongue was numb and I was slurring my speech . Of course, the doctor who saw me was pissed that I wasted his time, and talked to me like I was an idiot. Monica S.

That was my very last visit and I will NEVER go back for a migraine. It was very traumatic for me and made matters worse. I also think that ER docs are trained to treat emergencies and having a migraine is low on their list and not an emergency to themso you are handled in a very, very slow manner and a lot of times without compassion. Cherry S.

When I went the ER doctor was SUPER nice about it. They turned off the lights and made me do a CT scan. Since I had not had one that was like that, he was afraid I was having a stroke. Two days before I had gone in with the same migraine, but they treated it like a tension headache and acted like I was wasting their time. Megan P.

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What Can I Do To Prevent Migraines

One of the best ways to prevent migraines is to try to avoid the things that might trigger your attacks. Most people benefit from trying to get stable sleep, eating regular meals, drinking plenty of fluids to keep hydrated, and trying to manage stress. Taking regular exercise may also help prevent migraines since it helps with breathing, improving blood sugar balance and maintaining general wellbeing. Although you should take care not to engage in very strenuous activity that your body is not used to as this can sometimes act as a migraine trigger.

Keeping a diary of your migraines can be a useful way to record when and where you experience attacks, check for any patterns, and try to identify your triggers. Take the diary when you see your GP so you can communicate your symptoms with them and they can find the best way to help you.

Picturing A Migraine Attack


The brain works through many extremely complicated biochemical and electrical mechanisms, many of which are not even completely understood by science so it is no surprise that a description of what happens in the brain during a migraine attack is complicated! This article will try to make the process as clear as understandable as possible, even if you do not know a lot about cells and chemistry.

To start off, it can be helpful to use a mental picture that illustrates what is going on when migraine attacks are triggered: imagine a large troupe of gymnasts doing a dance routine to music, on a slick hardwood floor. The dancers are listening to music for their cues of when to do which dance move.

This wave of falling dancers is of course a bit silly, but the process has some similarity to the kind of chain reaction that takes place in the brain when a migraine attack is triggered, as we will see when we now dive into the actual biology of a migraine attack.

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Treating Nausea And Preventing Vomiting

If you have nausea without vomiting, your doctor may suggest medication to ease nausea called anti-nausea or antiemetic drugs. In this case, the antiemetic can help prevent vomiting and improve the nausea.

Acupressure may also be helpful in treating migraine nausea. A showed that acupressure reduced the intensity of migraine-associated nausea starting as soon as 30 minutes, gaining improvement over 4 hours.

A Note From Cleveland Clinic

The good news for headache sufferers is that you can choose from many kinds of treatment. If your first treatment plan doesnt work, dont give up. Your healthcare provider can recommend other treatments or strategies to find the right fix for you.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/03/2020.


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Can Migraines Be Prevented

You can’t prevent every migraine. But learning your triggers and trying to avoid them can help. Take a break from activities that might start a migraine, such as using the computer for a long time. If you know that some foods are triggers, skip them. Some people find that cutting back on caffeine or drinking a lot of water can help prevent migraines.

Make a plan for all the things you have to do especially during stressful times like exams so you don’t feel overwhelmed when things pile up. Regular exercise also can reduce stress and make you feel better.

The more you understand about your headaches, the better prepared you can be to fight them.

What Do We Know About Migraine Mechanisms Treatment And The Future

Migraine Headaches : What Happens to the Brain During a Migraine?

This year’s Migraine Awareness Week begins on the 2nd of September. It is a great opportunity to increase attention toward this condition. Around 15% of general population suffers from migraine, but it is considered one of the most invalidating disorders.

Migraines primary symptom is sudden and intense headache usually on one side of the head. The brains of migraineurs are different in both their structure and function. Migraineurs who experience more migraines have more structural abnormalities including decreases in grey matter and lesions in white matter.

The functioning of the migraine brain is also atypical. Changes in the external and internal environments can trigger abnormal electrophysiological and vascular changes throughout the brain.

One neurophysiological explanation for migraines is cortical spreading depression. During cortical spreading depression, the electrical activity of neurons in a certain brain area is silenced. Once a certain threshold of depression occurs, this silencing spreads throughout the brain like a ripple in a pond.

Cortical spreading depression often begins in sensory associated brain areas such as those involved in vision. The origin in visual areas could explain the migraine aura, afflicting a third of migraineurs, which manifest as flickering lights or scintillating spots in the visual field preceding the onset of the headache.

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Some Of These Lifestyle Changes Include:

  • Keeping a similar sleep pattern , but get enough sleep each night.
  • Trying to exercise, even walking, on a regular basis. This activity can be valuable following a stressful event, as it helps you gradually return to normal cortisol levels.
  • Eating regularly and staying as close as you can to your normal healthy diet.
  • Learning a new relaxation techniqueyoga or meditation, for instance.
  • Learning to play an instrument.
  • Seeking help from a cognitive therapist who can teach us to better manage the stress and negative thought patterns we can easily get into, given that we live with chronic illness.

I recall my initial surprise in discovering that others suffered from let-down migraines, as I thought it was unusual to suffer migraine attacks after rather than before or during a difficult event or really happy one. I found real relief in learning, once again, that I was not aloneand neither are you.


Bullock, Greg. Stress and Migraine Connection. Theraspecs. January 2018. Accessed 10 August 2021.

Dumas, Paula. Migraine at Work: 8 Tips to End the Let-down Headache. Migraine Again. October, 19, 2020. . Accessed 9 August 2021.

Who Gets Migraines What Are The Risk Factors

Its difficult to predict who may get a migraine and who may not, but there are risk factors that may make you more vulnerable. These risk factors include:

  • Genetics: Up to 80% of people who get migraine headaches have a first-degree relative with the disease.
  • Gender. Migraine headaches happen to women more than men, especially women between the ages of 15 and 55. Its likely more common in women because of the influence of hormones.
  • Stress level. You may get migraines more often if youre high-stress. Stress can trigger a migraine.
  • Smoking.

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The Brain Before A Migraine Attack

The entire brain with all its neurons and ECF is covered by a membrane . Running on the outside of this membrane are the arteries that supply the brain with oxygen and blood sugar. The nerve cells in the brain cannot feel pain, but the arteries have pain-sensing nerve endings in them, so-called pain receptors.

In the normal case illustrated in the picture above, the concentration of K+ is very large inside the nerve cells, but very low outside in the ECF. For Na+ it is the other way around.

When a nerve cell sends a signal , some of the K+ inside leaks out of the cell into the ECF, and some of the Na+ outside leaks into the cell. In our dancer example, this is similar to how the dancer from time to time drops a marble on the floor.

The normal inside/outside concentrations are kept stable by microscopic Na+/K+ pumps in the nerve cells walls. These pumps are all the time pumping K+ out of the ECF and into the cells, and Na+ in the other direction. In our dancefloor example, these pumps are like the dancer continually picking up the marbles that she drops.

I Think I Have A Brain Tumour What Should I Do

This Is What Happens When You Get A Migraine

Brain tumours are rare, however, if youre worried, if a symptom persists or if you have more than one of these symptoms then you may want to speak to a healthcare profession.

Talk to your GP

GP appointments are usually quite short, find out how to best prepare for your appointment with our guide to talking to your doctor.

Get an eye test

If your symptoms are limited to changes in vision and/or headaches, get your eyes tested by an optician before seeing your GP.

Should I go to A& E?

  • The headache is accompanied by a fever or stiff neck.
  • The headache is the highest degree of pain on the pain scale.

This does not mean it is a brain tumour, but it could be another serious complaint that needs immediate treatment.

For signs and symptoms to be aware of in children of different ages, including persistent or recurring headaches, visit our HeadSmart website.

Should I speak to a doctor during the coronavirus pandemic?

We understand you may feel worried about seeking help from your GP during the coronavirus pandemic but please dont delay speaking to a healthcare professional.

The NHS and your GP are still here for you and have made changes that make it easier to safely speak to a healthcare professional and get medical help if you need it.

Its more important than ever for you to prepare for your appointments by understanding what might happen during the appointment and what questions you want to ask.

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What Causes A Migraine

The cause of migraine headaches is complicated and not fully understood. When you have a headache its because specific nerves in your blood vessels send pain signals to your brain. This releases inflammatory substances into the nerves and blood vessels of your head. Its unclear why your nerves do that.

What Happens In The Brain During A Migraine

Until the 20th century it was a mystery what caused migraine and what happened in the body during an attack. However, in recent years scientists have discovered many of the mechanisms that are involved when migraine attacks start and develop. This article will describe the most important of these mechanisms.

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Also Known As An Ice Cream Headache Doctors Say The Condition Is Harmless But It Does Hurt

Who hasnt had a delicious milkshake, Popsicle or ice cream cone interrupted by the summertime curse known as a brain freeze? The pain starts on the roof of your mouth and within an instant feels like lightning bolts bouncing inside your skull. Then poof! A few seconds later, the discomfort disappears.

Just because the pain caused by a brain freeze, or ice cream headache, is fleeting doesnt mean its any less real. In fact, doctors have an official name for the unpleasant condition sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia but good luck pronouncing it .

So, whats going on inside your head during a brain freeze?

You can think of it almost like a cramp, says Wojtek Mydlarz, director of head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine. When you move too quickly, you might get a little strain or sharp pain.

Similarly, when we eat too much ice cream too fast, it surprises your body.

Youre shocking your system. Youre shocking your throat, your palate and your tongue from the cold, especially when its hot outside, says Mydlarz.

In response to the coldness, blood vessels in the roof of your mouth tighten while something known as the trigeminal nerve sends a message to your brain saying that the body needs to turn up the thermostat. The brain responds by sending warm blood to your mouth, loosening the blood vessels there.

When your body recovers from the cold exposure and tightening of blood vessels, thats when you get that very sharp headache, says Mydlarz.

How Can I Tell If I Have A Migraine Or A Sinus Headache

What Is a Migraine Headache?

Many people confuse a sinus headache with a migraine because pain and pressure in the sinuses, nasal congestion, and watery eyes often occur with migraine. To find out if your headache is sinus or migraine, ask yourself these questions:

In addition to my sinus symptoms, do I have:

  • Moderate-to-severe headache
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • If you answer yes to two or three of these questions, then most likely you have migraine with sinus symptoms. A true sinus headache is rare and usually occurs due to sinus infection. In a sinus infection, you would also likely have a fever and thick nasal secretions that are yellow, green, or blood-tinged. A sinus headache should go away with treatment of the sinus infection.

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    Can Using Birth Control Pills Make My Migraines Worse

    In some women, pills improve migraine. The pills may help reduce the number of attacks and their attacks may become less severe. But in other women, the pills may worsen their migraines. In still other women, taking birth control pills has no effect on their migraines.

    The reason for these different responses is not well understood. For women whose migraines get worse when they take birth control pills, their attacks seem to occur during the last week of the cycle. This is because the last seven pills in most monthly pill packs don’t have hormones they are there to keep you in the habit of taking your birth control daily. Without the hormones, your body’s estrogen levels drop sharply. This may trigger migraine in some women.

    Talk with your doctor if you think birth control pills are making your migraines worse. Switching to a pill pack in which all the pills for the entire month contain hormones and using that for three months in a row can improve headaches. Lifestyle changes, such as getting on a regular sleep pattern and eating healthy foods, can help too.

    You Feel More Down Than Usual

    When your brain is inflamed you may also experience depression. Again, this type of inflammation is usually lifestyle-related. As Health Coach and a Nutritional Therapist, Christina Tsiripidou tells Bustle, eating meals that are high in toxic protein or proteins that are genetically modified, and low in vegetables and healthy fats, can contribute to this. Not getting enough sleep and poor stress management skills can also have a way of making this worse.

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    What Happens To Your Body When You Have A Headache

    Women are considered the main sufferers of nogging throbbers. Learn whats behind the painand how to make it stop.

    TREAT YOURSELFThe best way to nix a headache: Prevent it from happening. Sticking to a daily routine and IDing your particular triggers are key. If you slip up, you may be able to keep a splitter from snowballing by drinking four eight-ounce glasses of H2O or doing some deep breathing for several minutes.

    Already in pain? Most docs do not recommend meds for tension headaches. Research shows distraction could work much better. If your ache is more intense, pop some OTC ibuprofen and ask your doc about other treatments.

    Despite being so common, headaches remain somewhat of a medical mystery. Many theories have been debunked new ideas center around brain chemistry gone wild.

    If the hurt is mild to moderate on both sides of your head, you likely have a tension headache. If its searing and on one side, you may have a more intense kind that could hit your. . .

    BrainAn area of the brain stem called the migraine generator switches on the nerve responsible for face sensation. Cue: extra-tender skin.

    Your pain center is now online. Though it could feel as if your brain is being stabbed with an ice pick, the organ cant actually feel pain. Its your meninges, a thin sheath around your brain, thats on fire.

    On the flip side, anything already in your tract might morph into diarrhea.


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