It Still Knows How To Pound

white matter

Migraines are painful, unpleasant, inconvenient—and they might be rewiring your brain. Researchers say migraine symptoms—particularly migraine aura, visual symptoms such as spots, flashes, shapes, or temporary blindness, or a pins-and-needles sensation, that can last up to an hour shortly before the onset of the pain, nausea, light and sound sensitivity, and lightheadedness—may be associated with the development lesions, changes in brain volume, and alterations to the glial "white matter" of the brain.

It’s not clear whether these changes are caused by migraines, or cause them, or are caused by another factor that makes people susceptible to migraine. If the headaches themselves are causing the brain changes, that suggests that reducing the frequency of attacks, or stopping them altogether, can stop if not reverse the changes. That means avoiding migraine triggers.

Triggers vary, but there are some things that tend to set off migraines. Certain foods can do it; onions are associated with migraine in many people. Aged cheeses, alcoholic beverages, pickled, aged, smoked, and fermented foods, soy-based foods, chocolate, bananas, figs, snow peas, and a variety of other foods contain a compound called tyramine, which is often a migraine trigger. Cured meats also often have nitrates. Sometimes, giving things up can be a trigger; a migraine is a common symptom of caffeine withdrawal. Other triggers are environmental, such as secondhand smoke, or circumstantial, such as menstruation or changes in sleep.

When avoiding triggers isn’t enough or is not possible, there are a few medical treatments for migraines, though the nature of the condition makes researching remedies difficult. Beta blockers, the antidepressant amitriptylene, and anti-seizure medications seem to prevent attacks. In recent studies, a blood pressure drug called candesartan has proven effective as well.

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