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Migraines were long thought to have no serious medical consequences besides the pain, but recent data suggest otherwise. Women who experience auras before a migraine have double the risk of stroke, heart attack and dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a study in the July 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association by Tobias Kurth and his colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. In recent years, researchers also have gained a new, better understanding of the biological origins of migraines.

In PMR, a person deliberately w w w. c o m migraine prevention means avoiding something— for instance, cigarette smoke or certain foods, such as red wine or chocolate. In women, up to 60 percent of migraines are set off by the drop in estrogen that precedes the menstrual cycle. Women can often prevent or reduce the severity of these migraines by taking estrogen in patch or pill form beginning two or three days before their menstrual period, which smooths out the natural drop in estrogen. Because the menstrual cycle is often predictable, treatments such as triptans that are usually taken during a migraine can head it off instead, if used within a day or two before a migraine is expected to begin.

Now many believe that nerve tissue is the primary culprit. Studies in the 1990s using the imaging technique positronemission tomography (PET) showed that the attacks seem to arise when nerves deep within the brain stem, the lower part of the brain that abuts the spinal cord, become overstimulated. Numerous nerves sprout from the brain stem, 40 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND COPYRIGHT 2006 SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, INC. D e c e m b e r 2 0 0 6 /J a nu a r y 2 0 07 L AURENCE DUT TON Get t y Image s Hitting a Nerve including fibers of the massive trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensory information to many parts of the face and head and also controls some facial muscles.

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[Magazine] Scientific American Mind. Vol. 17. No 6

by Donald

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