What’s In A Migraine? by Alexandria Naftchi
Many of us are familiar with the scourges called “migraines.” They begin to creep up on you with a plethora of unpleasant, flu-like symptoms lasting for anywhere from two days to two weeks. This nefarious phase is called the prodrome and is present in approximately 60 percent of the unfortunate individuals who deal with the condition. Following this is the aura of doom, consisting most commonly of distorted vision (scintillary scotoma) or of blurred/partially obstructed vision known as hemianopsia. The next most common manifestations include a pins-and-needles feeling in the afflicted side’s hand that slowly spreads up your lower body and trunk until it focuses on your nose and mouth on that side with the tenacity of Frodo, Sam, and Gollum’s climb up Mount Doom during the third book of the LOTR trilogy. But in this version you feel the pain, not Frodo. The relative calm before the tempest of neurological activity is followed within the hour by a gradual, severe pain on the side of the head/neck that felt the pins and needles called the pain phase. This phase can also elicit a reaction to light much like that of Smeagol’s aversion to Sting in The Hobbit. It doesn’t actually burn your skin, but you may be rendered willing to hand over any and all of your worldly possessions, including your “precious” to evade sun. Or, just put on sunglasses. After this phase comes the postdrome, which is essentially a veritable cornucopia of symptoms experienced after the arduous march, with symptoms ranging from impaired thinking to malaise to euphoria.
Why does this happen? Well, there is a perfectly straightforward (and, depending on your paradigm, potentially bland) answer. However, this is the point where the author decides to go on a tangent, and take you on a brief journey to figure out the root cause of severe, throbbing pain in some people’s heads (and necks!). Picture a thunderstorm, from beginning to end. And put a computer right in the middle of an open, low-lying field. First, the clouds roll in, and then the humidity level rises. Then, there are a few showers or maybe a brief calm. Then, a lightning bolt strikes a computer and the rain comes pouring down, damaging the computer significantly if not destroying it. Our brains are essentially like the computers in this situation. Thank goodness, a) most of us aren’t dumb enough to hang out in a lightning storm, b) our brains heal, and c) the amount of voltage involved in a migraine is relatively low. However, the reason for migraines is very similar to the reason why the computer in the hypothetical situation above got destroyed: a surge of electrical activity. When we get a migraine, the pain phase is due to a sudden wave of neurological activity in the cerebellum and other posterior portions of your brain, and this activity consists of electrical impulses. One could say that a migraine is a shocking condition.