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A Primer for Understanding Some of the Things That Could Be Wrong With Your Head: Migraine, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the Rebound Effect

By Lisa J. Lehr

The research for this article was driven by my own suffering and need for coping mechanisms. I hope my discoveries will help other sufferers find answers, or at least know where to begin looking.

Migraine: a vascular headache preceded by a constriction of cranial arteries, then commencing with the vasodilation that follows (in other words, the blood vessels get smaller, then bigger), with the resulting spasms restricting blood flow to the brain. It is caused by a neurological disease, a chemical or electrical problem in the nerve-rich arteries of the brain. Migraines are sometimes preceded by an "aura that can include flashing or zigzag lines, or a blind spot; sometimes sufferers feel "not quite right just before an attack, such as depressed or unusually hungry. Migraines are usually one-sided, and it's not always the same side, although the right side is more commonly affected. Symptoms can include nausea and sensitivity to light and noise. Migraines afflict more women than men; hormones are a factor.

Trigeminal Neuralgia (also known as tic douloureux): a disorder of the fifth cranial nerve, the largest nerve in the head, which sends impulses to the brain from the regions of the jaw, gums, forehead, and around the eyes, nose, lips, and ears. It is one of the most acute pains known to mankind. "Atypical TN results in a less intense, more constant pain. The cause may be abnormal blood vessels or other lesions. The connection between migraine and TN could be that the dilated vessels in migraine press upon these abnormal vessels, triggering a TN attack. My experience has been not of excruciating pain as much as of bizarre, previously unimagined sensations. For example: claws being stuck into my scalp, a "bruised feeling in my eye socket or cheekbone area, a toothache, pinpricks, or that fuzzy feeling you get when your face starts to wake up from the Novocaine after dental work. It's more common in women than men, and more common in people of at least age 50.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus causing major mood disorder. It is thought that melatonin, a hormone that may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at higher levels in the dark. Symptoms include sleep problems, fatigue (including muscle fatigue, in my case), craving for carbohydrates and sweets, anxiety, depression, and a weakened immune system. People who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD.

Rebound Effect: the characteristic of a drug to produce the opposite effect when the intended effect of the drug has passed, or when the patient no longer responds to it. In a person prone to headaches, especially migraines, OTC pain relievers taken more than two or three days a week"especially on an ongoing basis"can make the pain receptors more sensitive. As soon as the medicine wears off, the receptors turn on to produce a new headache. More medication leads to more headaches in a horrible vicious cycle. Again, more women than men are affected, and the most common age of onset is in the thirties.

The latest research suggests that migraine also tends to coexist with stomach problems as well as fibromyalgia and other pain disorders. If you suffer from any or all of these, please know that it's not in your head"actually it is, but in a very real, physical sense. Please know that you are not alone. And please supplement this information with your own research and/or discussion with your healthcare provider. Websites and message boards discussing these subjects abound.

About The Author
Lisa J. Lehr is a freelance writer with a specialty in business and marketing communications. She holds a biology degree and has worked in a variety of fields, including the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, and has a particular interest in health matters. She is also a graduate of American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI), America's leading course on copywriting.

This article ©Lisa J. Lehr 2006.

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