If you've ever suffered from a migraine, you know how debilitating and downright awful it can be. If you haven't, well, count yourself very lucky. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 29.5 million Americans (or 12% of us) suffer from migraine pain and symptoms, with the majority of those sufferers being women.
Now here's the really scary part: It's not known exactly what causes migraines. According to Dr. Michael Cutrer, chair of the Division of Headache, Department of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic, we do know that migraineurs (the common term for migraine sufferers) carry one or more genetic variants that makes them more susceptible. However, we don't know exactly what those variants are yet.
"When you have susceptibility to migraine, you have an unstable interface between the environment and that part of the nervous system that controls pain sensation in your head and neck," he says. "Everyone has the equipment and structure needed to have a migraine. What differs is the threshold for activation is lower for those people [who are more susceptible]." And for what little we know about how migraines actually work, we know even less about the best way to treat them. Awesome.
The news isn't all bleak, though, as there are some promising new drugs on the horizon — not to mention a wide variety of alternative treatments and supplements that have been shown to provide relief. Here, we break down the nitty gritty details on migraines, from what exactly they are, to common triggers and effective ways to manage the pain. Read on for the downlow on those headaches from hell.