While it is not clear exactly how a migraine works, it is believed that it is caused by an abnormality in an important chemical used by our brain cells called serotonin. During a migraine attack, changes in serotonin affect blood vessels in your brain, often causing the vessels to constrict or tighten. These changes in blood flow reduce the oxygen supply to the brain. If this oxygen supply is decreased long enough, it is possible to have a stroke. Fortunately, this is rare.
Certain foods may trigger a migraine attack, including aged cheese, nitrates (often found in cured meats, hot dogs and other processed foods), chocolate, red wine, monosodium glutamate (usually called MSG, a flavor enhancer frequently found in some foods), caffeine, aspartame (the artificial sweetener found in NutraSweet®) and alcohol.
Among women, hormonal changes are often migraine triggers — especially pregnancy, use of birth control pills, and menstrual periods or menopause. People often think their migraines are due to stress. While stress probably does not cause migraine, it may affect how often attacks occur. Interestingly, however, most migraine attacks seem to happen following stress relief, often at the beginning of a weekend or vacation.
People who experience migraine often have a family history of headaches or a prior history of motion sickness.
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