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It?s all in the head

india Updated: Aug 14, 2006 03:03 IST

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If headaches consistently disrupt your lifestyle, you could be suffering from migraine. Researchers believe that migraine affects many more people than diabetes, asthma and epilepsy combined. The debilitating condition is marked by intense, throbbing pain often on one side of the head that becomes worse with movement. Nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound are all symptoms that can last several hours or even days. That over half of these cases still remain undiagnosed is one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

Fortunately, new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association could provide a valuable handle for doctors to cope with migraine. The findings apparently dispel some of the myths surrounding this disorder. People used to think of migraine as nothing more than a beastly headache — brought on by ‘sinus’ or ‘tension’. It’s actually a disease of which the headache is just a symptom. It has little to do with primary vascular headaches that result from the alternate constriction and expansion of blood vessels in the head.

Migraine sufferers have unusually excitable brain nerve cells, or neurons. When migraine is triggered, these neurons suddenly fire electrical pulses that ripple from the back of the brain, across the top, then back down to the brainstem where vital pain centres are located. This triggers dramatic swings in blood flow, which probably inflame the blood vessels and stimulate the brainstem to release neuroinflammatory peptides, causing the pain of migraine. A simplified explanation, but perhaps it makes the point that understanding migraine is not such a big headache after all.

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