What is migraine?
Migraine is a severe, throbbing headache that usually occurs on one side of the head and can last anywhere between four and 72 hours. A migraine attack can cause nausea and sometimes vomiting. Light and sound are often difficult to endure. The severity of the complaints often makes it impossible to function properly at school or at work.
In 2012, approximately 3.1 million people in the Netherlands suffered migraine attacks, among whom as many as 1.1 million people suffer more than three migraine attacks a month. Most attacks occur between the ages of 25 and 55. Women suffer from migraine twice as often as men, probably due to the female hormone estrogen. Approximately 25% of those who suffer migraines are struck by so-called aura symptoms 15 to 45 minutes before an attack. The most common migraine aura symptoms are:
- Shimmering spots, flashes of light or wavy images in vision
- Blind spots (parts of one’s visual field are blocked out)
- Numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness on one side of the body
- Speech difficulty
What causes migraine?
Migraine is caused by the contraction and expansion of the blood vessels in the head. Chemical substances that transmit nerve impulses (neurotransmitters) in the brain are probably an important factor here. It is not clear why some people have more complaints or suffer more often than others. What we do know is that there is a greater chance of suffering migraine attacks if migraine runs in the family.
What triggers a migraine attack varies per person. The most common triggers in both men and women are:
- Tension and stress
- The shift from stress to relaxation
- Certain substances in food
- Flavour enhancers (in Asian food and ready-to-eat meals)
- Sulphite (in wine)
- Nitrate (in celery, endive, spinach, lettuce, fennel, conical cabbage, Chinese cabbage and beetroot)
- Artificial sweetener (aspartame)
Women have triggers related to the female hormones, such as:
- The menstrual cycle
- The use of the contraceptive pill or hormonal contraception
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