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Are migraines linked to poor blood circulation?

by Owen Wiseman, H.BSc., on 2 November 2017, Circulation
migraines

While enjoying your morning pick-me-up, you suddenly feel an intense and sudden throbbing in your head, that feels like something other than the energy you need is trying to force its way out.

You may suddenly feel queasy, call in sick to work, and head back to bed.

If this sounds familiar, then you are most likely experiencing a migraine. These debilitating attacks can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, leaving you in a state where even the quietest sound becomes a jackhammer and the smallest hint of light becomes a supernova. While many of us have experienced a headache, the severity and accompanying symptoms is what sets these attacks apart.

Headaches are typically less painful with more of a pressure sensation than a pulsing. This sensation of pressure tends to affect both sides of the head whereas a migraine tends to localize to a single side. Finally, when a migraine shows up, it is often escorted by sensitivity to sound and/or light, nausea, pain in the temples, and vision loss. There are other symptoms known as ‘auras’ that preempt the onset of a migraine. A few examples are a sensation of tingling, an altered sense of taste, touch, or smell, or trouble concentrating, but auras vary between those suffering from migraines.

Migraines and blood flow

The research is still undecided on the primary cause of migraines, but we are getting closer with every study. As one can imagine, the brain requires a huge amount of nutrients to ensure its proper functioning. Weighing in at a mere 2% of our overall body weight, the brain requires a staggering 15-20% of the overall blood flow of the body depending on its activity at any given moment. Cerebral circulation is accomplished through a network of vessels collectively known as the Circle of Willis. This structure consists of the cerebral arteries, communicating arteries, and the internal carotid artery and is vital to our health.

Current estimates indicate that a typical and expected anatomical Circle of Willis is only present in about 14-48% of the population with irregular circles forming the remainder. These anomalies could be a variety of things. Sometimes the vessels are smaller than average, often found in the back half of the brain, which could reduce blood flow to certain areas. In other situations, we find accessory vessels, extra vessels that branch off of a main one, kind of like coming across an alley way where you didn’t expect to find one. Accessory vessels could potentially divert blood away from its final goal, much like we enter a mall making a beeline to buy one item and we see that our favourite store is hosting a semi-annual sale…coming out with a brand new whatever and a mild feeling of guilt.

Protecting this important network of blood vessels is something called the blood-brain barrier and it functions exactly as the name suggests, as a barrier against anything that could alter normal flow. During a migraine attack, it is possible that the blood-brain barrier is temporarily disrupted, meaning a greater amount of blood can pass through the barrier. This poses a danger because if the body guard is distracted, chemicals that are normally stopped can slip through with the blood into our brain’s circulation. These chemicals could activate pain receptors associated with the throbbing agony of a migraine.

How to prevent migraines

Migraines have also been associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, so it is important to speak to your physician about any family history of migraines to see what can be done. Thankfully, there are ways to alleviate some of the symptoms and take steps to prevent them from occurring:

  • Journal your triggers. Often times, migraine attacks are set off by certain triggers. For some, these are emotional stressors such as grief, frustration, worry, or sadness, and others are triggered by factors such as menopause, alcohol, certain foods or weather, or changes in one’s normal sleep schedule. Keeping an account of what happened leading up to the migraine attack can help you identify some potential triggers and help you avoid them. This could be a useful way to identify whether certain foods trigger an attack and allow you to alter their presence in your diet.
  • Symptomatic relief. Gingko biloba has been shown to help with blood flow, opening up vessels, and allowing for improved nutrient delivery and waste clean up. Studies support its use for the treatment of acute auras and migraines, showing its ability to decrease their duration. Adding Ginkgoforce into your routine is a great way to get some Ginkgo in your life.
  • Exercise. As mentioned earlier, the brain is gobbling up a lot of the body’s resources. When we exercise, we are increasing the total amount of blood that the heart can put out, and therefore, the amount of food available for the brain. Exercise also makes our cells more efficient at removing waste, breaking down nutrients, and creating energy for a healthy system
  • Develop coping strategies. Despite your best efforts, sometimes the migraine is stubborn and decides to stick around. Figuring out some strategies that work for you such as meditation or turning to a less stress-inducing task or activity are ways to manage an attack. Generally though, the earlier you try to treat the migraine, the shorter its duration.

References:
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/dxc-20202434
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/834554
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23695070/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28143709
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26644117
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28430860
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824931/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3879841/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4640423/

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