What Are Migraine Headaches?

Migraine headaches might result from the relationship between the brainstem’s interactions with the trigeminal nerve, which causes a chemical imbalance. Migraine specialists often hear alarming descriptions of pain and discomfort from sufferers of migraine headaches. From throbbing sensations to vice-like grips of head pain, descriptions of migraine symptoms make it easy to sympathize with the more than 25 million people in the U.S. who experience them.

Considered the most severe form of headaches, migraines are caused by the enlargement of blood vessels, which releases pain-causing chemicals. An “aura,” or sensory warning, sometimes precedes a migraine attack. Migraines cost more than $20 billion in direct expenses, including medical bills, and indirect expenses, such as missed workdays.1 With the physical trauma and expenses accumulated because of these headaches, it is no wonder the anti-migraine drug market is expected to exceed $3.2 billion by 20152.


Migraine treatments are based on identifying triggers and using preventive therapies.

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Although the exact cause of migraines is still being researched, it is understood to be a combination of genetics and environment. Low serotonin, a pain management chemical, levels can trigger a migraine by letting too much blood flow through vessels that should be constricted—inducing a throbbing sensation. Low serotonin may also trigger the trigeminal system to release neuropeptides to the brain outer layer, causing pain3. These internal processes do not always occur unprovoked. Stress, bright lights, caffeine, alcohol, and odors are common external migraine triggers. Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from migraines. Estrogen has been found to trigger attacks and increase pain.

Migraine Headaches ExplainedThe attention and resources put toward migraine treatments is a result of their intense accompanying symptoms. Prior to a migraine attack, an aura may alert patients. Visual sensations, such as seeing shapes, have been reported to precede migraines, as well as tingling sensations and speech problems. During the attack, severe head pain generally occurs on one side of the head, but can be felt on both. Sensitivity to light and odors often induces nausea, which can cause vomiting. Lightheadedness, which can lead to fainting, occurs in some cases. Without treatment, migraine headaches usually last four to 72 hours4.

Migraine treatment varies depending on the patient and symptoms. Most migraine specialists try to determine environments to avoid by identifying triggers. For example, those who experience migraines when exposed to bright lights may be instructed to wear protective eyewear in the sun and consciously avoid staring into artificial light. Other common preventive lifestyle changes include avoiding certain odors and beverages or adjusting sleeping conditions.

These preemptive strategies can help eliminate migraines altogether. Your migraine specialist can prescribe preventative drugs that can also help fight off migraines. Cardiovascular drugs, such as beta-blockers and antidepressants, can prevent attacks. Once migraines hit, there are number of pain management options. Anti-nausea medications, opiates, and pain relievers treat specific symptoms to reduce the discomfort of migraines. Like many internal ailments, healthy living is one of the most effective treatments. Avoiding too much stress, exercising, and eating properly will reduce the chance of migraines and dismiss the need for more complicated, expensive treatment options.5

Headache Journal

If you have headaches, you may wish to download the Arizona Pain Specialists headache journal to document what you are experiencing. This record can be extremely useful during your next visit with one of our doctors or clinicians, and it takes the pressure off of you to remember and describe your exact symptoms. Use our journal to document the details of your headaches, possible causes, what migraine treatment you attempted (medication, herbal remedies, dark room, etc.), and the effects of that treatment.

At Arizona Pain, our goal is to relieve your migraine pain and improve function to increase your quality of life.
Give us a call today at 480-563-6400.


  1. About Migraines . (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2011, from American Migraine Foundation : www.americanmigrainefoundation.org/whatismigraine
  2. US Anti-Migraine Drugs Market to Exceed $3.2 Billion by 2015, According to New Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2011, from PR Web: www.prweb.com/releases/anti_migraine_drugs/migraine_medicines
  3. Staff, M. C. (n.d.). Migraine: Causes. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from Mayo Clinic : www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache
  4. Melissa Conrad Stoppler, M. (n.d.). Migraine Headache. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from Medicinenet: www.medicinenet.com/migraine_headache
  5. Staff, M. C. (n.d.). Migraine: Treatment and drugs. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache