The ‘Migraine Brain’: What happens when I have a migraine attack

What is migraine? And what happens in my brain when I have a migraine attack? The ‘Migraine Brain’ gives some explanation on how people with migraine experience stimuli.
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What is migraine?

What is migraine? And what happens in my brain when I have a migraine attack? Let’s start by looking at a definition of leading migraine researcher, Professor Peter Goadsby from Kings College London:

“Migraine is an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger.“

How the ‘Migraine brain’ deals with stimuli

What does “an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information” mean for the daily lives of people living with migraine? Brains are working pretty hard every day to filter out stimuli that reach our bodies. Stimuli could come from external sources, such as light or sounds, or from within ourselves, signals that other body parts send to our brain. Pain is usually a very strong signal, for example, if you drink your coffee too hot, your body sends the signal BURN to your brain. The brain then acts on this information and you stop drinking your coffee until it cools down. 

Thankfully, our brains have a filter so that not every stimulus is processed and turned into action. Imagine how much our brain would have to deal with. It would, for example, constantly be aware of how your clothes feel on your skin. That would be too much to handle! 

But what about migraine? Well, those living with migraine have a weaker filter system in their brain. So, stimuli like sunlight or sounds might seem much stronger to us than to other people. And this is true when we have a migraine attack but also when we are not in pain. Our bodies simply are more sensitive to stimuli. 

Dealing with stimuli 

Learning to cope with stimuli is important to manage migraine. While we cannot get rid of many external stimuli, such as sunlight, we can help ourselves with sunglasses and other tools. Equally important is that we don’t forget internal stimuli such as stress or anxiety. Our bodies and minds might react stronger to emotional challenges, so equipping yourself with mental coping techniques should be part of your migraine care toolkit. If you don’t know where to start, have a look at some of our relaxation exercises. They teach you to react to internal stimuli, your emotions and thoughts, more mindfully and calmly.

Check out our Youtube video about The Migraine Brain.

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