A migraine is a type of neurological syndrome which is a very common condition worldwide, affecting at least twelve to twenty eight per cent of the world's population at any one time. The disorder is characterized by splitting headaches that comes in waves and is very debilitating - becoming a major handicap for the sufferer. In fact, the world health organization includes migraine among the top twenty debilitating disorders around the world. Recent evidences from clinical studies on rats have lent another unhappy dimension to this condition. It is said that migraines actually induce some form of brain damage in affected patients.
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Strokes tend to affect migraine patients at a higher rate compared to individuals free of migraine. This phenomenon has been linked to the damage in brain tissues that is said to be induced by repeated migraine attacks. Migraines could actually be a sign of damage to the brain according to studies conducted by some clinical scientists. If this is always the case, than millions of unlucky people who suffer from chronic and painful migraines annually, may actually be experiencing brain tissue damage.
According to some researchers, migraines are actually small transient strokes that can damage certain areas of the brain. This conjecture is based on studies on mice as well as humans.
At the Rochester Medical Centre, clinical researchers have discovered that the very painful and debilitating headaches experienced during an attack actually induces swelling in some parts of the brain, these parts of the brain are deprived of oxygen as a direct result of such attacks. The oxygen starvation results in brain tissue death possibly causing brain damage following persistent attacks.
In clinical studies on mice, research scientists focused on the wave like changes that affected the brain cells of mice during a migraine attack using medical imaging technology. They mapped various areas of the brain and came to the conclusion that tissue death is induced by the migraine attacks leading to brain damage in the affected mice.
In fact, the brain tissue damage that affected the tested mice, during these migraine episodes resembled the brain tissue damage that affects the brain during transient ischemic attacks - TIA - which are more like mini-strokes.
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A migraine attack occurs as a wave, the initial wave of cell change is known as cortical spreading depression - CSD - during a migraine, the brain tends to utilize large amounts of metabolic energy in an attempt to restore the chemical imbalance in the tissues induced by this initial wave. In fact, the cortical spreading depression induced changes is a common event during strokes, during the onset of a migraine attack, and during head trauma. The main problem during a CSD event is that some parts of the brain are deprived of oxygen and even though the arteries in the brain expand to allow the flow of a large volume of oxygenated blood to meet the increased demand for energy, some parts of the brain tissues die off as a result of oxygen deprivation and brain damage becomes inevitable.
Brain tissues are extremely sensitive to oxygen levels and will die if left without oxygen even for short periods of time. The scarcity of oxygen in some parts of the brain during a migraine wave causes the nerve cells in the oxygen deprived part of the brain to die and this part becomes damaged. In fact, this form of brain damage resembles the brain tissue damage observed in people who have just suffered some form of traumatic head injury; it also resembles the brain damage seen during a mini stroke, as well as the damage triggered by an extreme loss of blood flow to the brain that accompanies a heart attack.
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Clinical scientists and medical doctors have known about the functional impairment of the brain in patients during a migraine attack. The discovery of actual damage to brain tissues due to migraine is a revelation and will require further research and the development of new treatment strategies. One recent study has also confirmed that the cognitive abilities of patients who suffer repeated migraine attacks decreases over a span of time.
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Due to the chances of brain damage in migraine sufferers, most clinical scientists are of the view that all migraine sufferers use their preventative medication to avoid triggers for an attack. Migraine attacks are normally triggered by some specific factors which may include sleep deprivation and extreme physical or mental stress. Taking precautionary measures at the right time can prevent all further headaches and preclude the possibility of brain damage and all its consequences.
The sheer numbers of migraine sufferers who do not consult a doctor and take appropriate medication is amazing; in fact, preventive medications are used by only a small percentage of migraine affected individuals. This is a disturbing scenario as repeated attacks can lead to long term cognitive failure due to the brain tissue deaths that every attack brings.
A large proportion of migraine sufferers, never get any preventive medications and clinicians suggest that only about twenty per cent of all affected individuals receive preventive treatment of any kind - this is a dismal percentage of all the sufferers at potential risk of brain damage. All patients and the doctors taking care of them have a responsibility to be diligent and proactive in making the best use of preventive medications to offset the chances of migraine induced brain damage.
The onset of a migraine attack is perceived as sensations called "auras," these are felt by the affected person either in the form of flashes of light or as black floating spots in the filed of vision. It is estimated by clinical scientist that about a quarter of all individuals who suffer from migraine attacks experience auras as distinct events before the full migraine attack.
In fact, in one clinical study it was reported that migraine affected women who experienced auras as distinct events preceding a migraine attack had about a fifty to seventy per cent increase in the risk of coming down with a stroke compared to other migraine affected women who were not affected by auras.
Some clinical doctors who are involved with the study of migraines have suggested that the sensation of pain may mean that brain damage has already taken place. Therefore, a migraine is far more than just a chronic episode of head splitting headaches; it may be cause much bigger problems to sufferers in the long run.
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Approximately twelve million people in the US come down with migraine every year. The organization called Migraine Canada puts the number of Canadians affected by migraines at three million. Migraine also tends to affect women more than men. Its debilitating nature causes a loss of income and translates into lost work hours across the world.
Across age groups, migraines are the most common in the twenty five to fifty four age bracket - this is according to data sourced from a Statistics Canada report released in 2001; what is more, the report states that individuals who come from low income households are much more likely to suffer from migraines compared to people with higher incomes.
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