A classic migraine is one of the most common types of migraine headache. A migraine headache can be debilitating; when a migraine hits, a person may have to stop working, playing, or whatever it is they are doing at the moment. Classic migraines are characterized by an aura; that is, a visual or other physical disturbance that can signal the onset of a migraine. An aura can last from 10-30 minutes and can occur before, overlap with, or even come after a migraine. Sometimes it can take the form of flashing lights or colors, or temporary loss of vision.
Migraines are vascular headaches. They are thought to be caused by the restriction of blood vessels in the brain in response to certain stimuli. Why the blood vessels restrict in response to the stimuli is a mystery. It is thought that when a person experiences the stimuli, the blood vessels in the brain restrict and cut off the brain's blood supply. The lack of oxygen is what is thought to cause the aura. The restriction of the blood vessels may also trigger the release of serotonin, a chemical that restricts vessels further.
Faced with the lack of oxygen, the brain will release chemicals to dilate particular vessels in order to restore oxygen. Dilating these blood vessels can also trigger the release of substances called prostaglandins that can produce pain in the brain. It may also trigger the release of other chemicals that increase sensitivity to pain, as well as substances that cause inflammation. When a classic migraine has hit, a person may feel pounding on one or both sides of her head. The pain may also be accompanied by loss of speech, dizziness, nausea, and photophobia, which is sensitivity to light.
The triggers that cause a classic migraine can vary from person to person. Many times, triggers can be certain foods, stress, and weather or pressure changes. In women, hormonal changes can be a factor. For example, a classic migraine can be triggered by eating certain types of beans, or might be caused by the onset of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Keeping a journal of migraines and what a person was doing when it occurs, will help her to understand those triggers and, especially in the case of foods, stay away from them if possible. There are also different treatments that can be used to treat a classic migraine when it appears or help to prevent one from happening.
Over-the-counter pain medications may work for some migraines. For more severe pain, a person may have to visit her doctor, who can prescribe medicines that can help reduce the pain or help keep it from coming. Particularly severe pain may have to be managed by stronger drugs, such as morphine or barbiturates, which can be habit forming. In fact, most migraine medications, even those sold over the counter, can cause health issues if they are overused, so it is best to consult a healthcare professional when taking them on a regular basis.