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Understanding Migraines

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Understanding Migraines


Migraines are a type of neurological disorder that causes excruciating, debilitating headaches, affecting about 10 percent of the population worldwide. 

These can be so severe that the word headache is inadequate to describe the genuinely unbearable array of painful migraines symptoms.

Migraine Symptoms

The pain from these headaches can be so excruciating that it causes vomiting. Many patients also experience visual phenomena/distortions called aura, which can affect their field of vision in various ways, making it difficult for them to perform such basic actions as walking. Dizziness and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and smell are common symptoms, often triggering additional vomiting. It is common for these symptoms to be so debilitating that the patient must lie down in a completely dark, silent room for the duration of the migraine episode. This can last for hours or days. Unfortunately for migraine sufferers, their symptoms can leave them struggling to work, often missing out on social activities, and significantly impacting their quality of life.

Causes of Migraines

Frustratingly, doctors and researchers have had trouble pinpointing the exact cause of migraine headaches. So far, research has shown that several risk factors exist for migraines but has yet to find a unifying factor that points to a definitive cause. This has led scientists to believe that several conditions can cause migraines. There is some evidence that migraines are hereditary, meaning they run in families. Often migraine sufferers can point back to a line of relatives afflicted with the same condition. Although this usually indicates a genetic link, none has been established. Hormonal changes, particularly in women, can cause migraines. Additionally, it appears that environmental factors can also be a major cause of migraines.


Many people who have migraines report experiencing triggers that appear to bring about the headache. Common triggers include stress, anxiety, bright lights, certain foods, alcohol, motion sickness, strong scents, and perfumes. Sometimes taking medications like Tylenol for several days in a row will trigger a migraine, also referred to as a rebound migraine.


Many people who suffer from autoimmune diseases, such as Lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriatic arthritis, also experience migraines. Sometimes these are caused by spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal cord in the vertebrae in the neck. This puts pressure on nerves and can cause chronic headaches. There is often no known connection between migraines and autoimmune disease, but many patients experience both. It is possible that the chronic inflammation triggered by autoimmune diseases also triggers migraines. People with epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and head or brain injuries are also susceptible to migraines. Sometimes injuries damage nerves or bones and cause migraines.


Migraine headaches are typically diagnosed by a neurologist, although a general practitioner may make the diagnosis and refer the patient to a neurologist. Neurologists specialize in the nervous system and treat brain and neurological disorders. Diagnosis will include a physical exam and a family history and may include imaging and blood tests. Migraines cannot be diagnosed by MRI, blood test, or X-rays, but these tests allow neurologists to rule out other medical conditions. Sometimes, a neurologist will also run an EEG (electroencephalogram), a test during which electrodes are placed on the patient’s scalp to measure electrical activity in the patient’s brain.

Migraine Treatment 

There is no cure for migraines, but there are treatments to manage the frequency and chronic pain of these headaches. Treatment for migraines can vary widely. It can include self-care, over-the-counter medication, prescription medication, and injections. The first medication most people try for migraines is a cocktail that includes acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Sometimes small doses of caffeine can also be effective. Many migraine-specific medications, like Excedrin Migraine, combine the above medicines. When migraines are mild, these over-the-counter medications are often effective treatments.

Moderate to severe migraines often require prescription medication. These are divided into two categories, preventative and abortive. Preventive medications are taken regularly to prevent migraine from occurring. They include many medicines that treat other conditions, including anticonvulsants and tricyclic antidepressants. Sometimes Botox injections into the scalp are also used to prevent migraines. Abortive medications are taken at the first sign of migraine onset. They are designed to interrupt and stop the migraine from progressing. While none of these medications will entirely eliminate migraines, they are valuable tools for managing frequent migraine attacks.

Auto-Collisions, Spine Injuries, and Migraines

A spinal injury is one of the most common injuries sustained in an auto accident. Any person with a spinal cord injury, or a condition resulting from a spinal cord injury (such as chronic pain), is more likely to experience migraines. Headaches resulting from cervical sprain and injury to the neck are common. Pinched nerves are one of the most common causes of headaches, including migraines. Slipped or damaged disks are another significant cause of migraines. Furthermore, those who experience migraines before an auto-collision are very likely to experience an increase in both the severity and frequency of migraines post-collision.

It is also necessary to state that migraines with visual aura (distortions) can lead to auto-collisions if patients drive while experiencing these symptoms. Therefore, it is important not to drive if you are experiencing a migraine with visual symptoms. Although it may be frustrating and inconvenient to find other transportation, no one experiencing visual distortions should get behind the wheel of a car.

Watch the YouTube video below to learn how whiplash injuries (also known as cervical sprain) can cause migraines and how to treat them.

California Personal Injury Attorneys

I’m Ed Smith, a Personal Injury Attorney. If you have been involved in an accident and are experiencing migraines due to related injuries, call our law office at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400. Our experienced legal team can provide free, friendly advice on proceeding with a potential injury claim.

Photo by Mehrpouya H on Unsplash

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