Migraine Headaches – 2nd of a Series:
“The Migraine Aura – Tricks From The Brain”
Migraine headaches generally come in two forms: With and without auras. The headaches themselves can be equally painful – whether or not an aura is present.
Statistics indicate that only about 20% of migraine sufferers actually experience these auras. However, I’ve actually observed that the prevalence of aura type migraines is substantially less than that.
What Is A Migraine Aura?
The aura is a distortion in perception. Most often a migraine aura is a visual alteration or other sensory phenomena occurring just before the pain phase of a migraine headache starts. The aura also typically ends before the headache itself begins.
Symptoms associated with auras may include flashing lights, geometric patterns, or distorted vision.
However, some people may have non-visual auras involving hearing sounds (usually buzzing), olfactory auras involving smelling odors, or tactile auras that manifest like a physical touching sensation.
Characteristics Associated With Auras Include:
- Flashing lights
- Wavy or zigzagging lines
- Visual spots or other shapes
- Blind spots or partial loss of sight
- Blurry vision
- Olfactory hallucinations, or the smelling of aromas that aren’t really there
- Tingling feeling or numbness about the face or extremities
- Difficulty speaking or forming words
- Vertigo (dizziness)
- Partial and temporary paralysis
- Hearing loss
- Reduced sensation to touch
- Hypersensitivity to feel and touch
Migraine auras normally lasts from 20 minutes to an hour; however some sufferers have been known to experience aura symptoms lasting up to two days. Migraine aura symptoms can and do vary tremendously from one migraine sufferer to the next.
“Negative” and “Positive” Symptoms
The most commonly reported aura consists of flashing lights or zigzagging lines, known as the so-called “positive” symptoms.
Partial or total visual field loss or vision blackouts are called “negative symptoms”.
A combination of so-called “negative symptoms” (such as vision loss) with the “positive symptoms” (like zigzagging lines) make up the typically distinctive features of a migraine aura.
Vision blackouts - the “negative symptoms” - are caused by a depression of nerve activity. On the other hand, zigzagging lines are caused by hyperactivity in the nerve cells.
Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD)
Special imaging and magnetic brainwave studies strongly suggest that Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD) forms the biological basis for the “negative symptoms” of a migraine aura.
From studying a particular type of migraine - Familial Hemiplegic Migraine (FHM) - recent findings have shown two genes are responsible for causing this symptom. These genes - which control the ion flow of calcium, sodium and potassium to the nerve cells - are damaged in people inclined to this type of migraine. It’s believed this genetic mutation makes a person’s neurons susceptible to CSD.
In essence, the nerve cells (or neurons) don’t get properly “recharged” – resulting in diminished or depressed neural activity. Whatever the reason, this reduced activity slows down normal body functioning. If the affected neuron complex happens to control the sight centers (visual cortex) then visual disturbances or losses may occur.
However, as these neurons begin to react to or recover from the CSD, they may become hyper excitable, resulting in visual phenomena such as flashing lights and zig zag lines. (It’s sort of like the neuron’s compensate by rebounding and going into overdrive!)
This hyper excitability then activates the major nerve complex behind the eye (trigeminal nerve). This initiates migraine headaches by activating the highly pain-sensitive “dura mater” - the membrane sheet wrapping around the brain.
Calcium Channel Blocker Drugs
Researchers speculated that blocking the ion channels flowing through the neuron cell membranes would help reduce migraine pain. Some suggested using drugs to slow down and block these channels – for example “calcium channel blocker” medications.
Calcium channel blockers (such as verapamil) are widely used to treat heart disease and high blood pressure. They’re also now extensively used to prevent migraine headaches. Unfortunately, their effectiveness in migraine prevention is minimal at best.
A Better Method
There is another option – a migraine cure. Cure the migraine and never worry about their associated auras or pain again.
Recent reports indicate migraine headaches can indeed be totally abolished – as a number of elite medical clinics catering to women have testified. Under their treatment protocols, migraines are completely eliminated in 80% of their patients.
These successes are limited to women only, as addressing a women’s hormones is the basis of the cure. Some clinics have published their treatment protocols and even made them available to the public.
The Women’s Health Institute of Texas believes that a migraine cure certainly eliminates the migraine auras altogether - and concern over the ensuing migraine headache may no longer be necessary – at least in women.
About the Author: Dr. Andrew P. Jones, M.D. is the Medical Director for the Women’s Health Institute of Texas. He is Board Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and by the American Academy of Biologically Identical Hormone Therapy.
His medical experience primarily revolves around the relationship of women’s health issues and bio-identical hormone management of PMS, menopause and migraine headaches.
Find out more about Dr. Jones and the cure for migraine headaches
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View next migraine headache article to understand more... Article No. 3