What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

Who Gets Migraines?

Migraines are common. The US National Headache Association (NHF) estimates that more than 29.5 million American suffer from this type of vascular headache.

Vascular Headache?

Vascular headache is a general term used to describe a category of headaches caused when the brain artery size rapidly changes. The blood vessels are abnormally sensitive and certain triggers can cause them to constrict or dilate very quickly. The end result is a throbbing pain in the head.

The term "vascular headache" isn't used as often anymore. It's considered an outdated term by many doctors. The International Headache Association (IHS) in Britain no longer recognizes the term to describe headaches.

More Migraine Statistics

Sufferers are usually those between the ages of 15 and 55. Women get migraines three times more often than men. Most suffers have a family history of migraines. In 70 to 80 percent of the cases, those inflicted with migraines have a relative that also had or currently experiences these types of headaches.

The bad news is that migraines often go undiagnosed. The NHF reports that migraines are often misdiagnosed as a type of tension headache or even a sinus headache.

Approximately one-fix of sufferers experience an aura. An aura is a visual disturbance such as blind spots, flashing lights, wavy lines, and dots or flashing lights. Migraine auras tend to be a warning that the headache pain is about to start. Auras begin 20 minutes to one hour before the migraine pain begins. Some sufferers who experience auras also have difficulty speaking and feel tingling sensations in their arms or faces.

Doctors once thought that migraine auras were caused by the small arteries in the brain constricting, according to the NHF. Now doctors know that it's due to the activity of specific nerve cells during transient changes. Click here to learn more about auras.

The Causes

Physicians don't know the specific cause of migraines. They've determined that there's a genetic connection and that if one person in the family has migraines, it's likely more will have these types of headaches as well.

Some people inherit an unusual sensitivity to certain migraine triggers like weather changes, fatigue and bright lights. Medical scientists don't fully agree on whether the migraines are caused entirely by inherited abnormalities or simply the constricting or expanding of blood vessels on the brain's surface.

How Does It Start?

The NHS says a migraine occurs when hyperactive brain cells cause the trigeminal nerve to release a chemical that causes the blood vessels on the surface of the brain to become irritated and swell. The inflamed blood cells release serotonin and prostaglandins that send out pain signals.

The pain signals can be extremely strong. Sufferers can experience pain in the neck area, sinus, face or jaw. Almost every migraine causes pain around the eye or the temple area. The pain can be so severe that simple task like combing your hair can be extremely unpleasant.

The Triggers

Triggers don't actually cause the migraine attack. The clamping and dilation of blood vessels does. But there are a variety of things that can cause the blood vessels to do this.

· Caffeine. A sudden reduction in caffeine levels in the body can cause this type of headache. A caffeine trigger is more common in those who regularly ingest caffeine and then abruptly quit or significantly reduce their intake. The blood vessels, which have become used to the caffeine, react by rapidly dilating and constricting.

· Emotional stress. Stress causes certain chemicals to be released that cause the vascular changes associated with migraines. The severity of a migraine can be made worse if the stress is not dealt with because excitement, worry or anxiety can increase muscle tension.

Click here to learn more about migraine triggers.