Migraine Glossary

angiography

an imaging technique that provides a picture, called an angiogram, of blood vessels.

aura

a symptom of classic migraine headache in which the patient sees flashing lights or zigzag lines, or may temporarily lose vision.

basilar artery migraine

migraine, occurring primarily in young women and often associated with the menstrual cycle, that involves a disturbance of a major brain artery. Symptoms include vertigo, double vision, and poor muscular coordination.

benign exertional headache

headache brought on by running, lifting, coughing, sneezing, or bending.

biofeedback

a technique in which patients are trained to gain some voluntary control over certain physiological conditions, such as blood pressure and muscle tension, to promote relaxation. Thermal biofeedback helps patients consciously raise hand temperature, which can sometimes reduce the number and intensity of migraines.

cluster headaches

intensely painful headaches — occurring suddenly and lasting between 30 and 45 minutes — named for their repeated occurrence in groups or clusters. They begin as minor pain around one eye and eventually spread to that side of the face.

computed tomography (CT)

an imaging technique that uses X-rays and computer analysis to provide a picture of body tissues and structures.

dihydroergotamine

a drug that is given by injection to treat cluster headaches. It is a form of the antimigraine drug ergotamine tartrate

electroencephalogram (EEG)

a technique for recording electrical activity in the brain.

electromyography (EMG)

a special recording technique that detects electric activity in muscle. Patients are sometimes offered a type of biofeedback called EMG training, in which they learn to control muscle tension in the face, neck, and shoulders.

endorphins

naturally occurring painkilling chemicals. Some scientists theorize that people who suffer from severe headache have lower levels of endorphins than people who are generally pain free.

ergotamine tartrate

a drug that is used to control the painful dilation stage of migraine.

hemiplegic migraine

a type of migraine causing temporary paralysis on one side of the body (hemiplegia).

inflammatory headache

a headache that is a symptom of another disorder, such as sinus infection, and is treated by curing the underlying problem.

magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

an imaging technique that uses radio waves, magnetic fields, and computer analysis to provide a picture of body tissues and structures.

migraine

a vascular headache believed to be caused by blood flow changes and certain chemical changes in the brain leading to a cascade of events — including constriction of arteries supplying blood to the brain and the release of certain brain chemicals — that result in severe head pain, stomach upset, and visual disturbances.

muscle-contraction headaches

headaches caused primarily by sustained muscle tension or, possibly, by restricted blood flow to the brain. Two forms of muscle-contraction headache are tension headache, induced by stress, and chronic muscle-contraction headache, which can last for extended periods, involves steady pain, and is usually felt on both sides of the head.

nociceptors

the endings of pain-sensitive nerves that, when stimulated by stress, muscular tension, dilated blood vessels, or other triggers, send messages up the nerve fibers to nerve cells in the brain, signaling that a part of the body hurts.

ophthalmoplegic migraine

a form of migraine felt around the eye and associated with a droopy eyelid, double vision, and other sight problems.

prostaglandins

naturally occurring pain-producing substances thought to be implicated in migraine attacks. Their release is triggered by the dilation of arteries. Prostaglandins are extremely potent chemicals involved in a diverse group of physiological processes.

serotonin

a key neurotransmitter that acts as a powerful constrictor of arteries, reducing the blood supply to the brain and contributing to the pain of headache.

sinusitis

an infection, either viral or bacterial, of the sinus cavities. The infection leads to inflammation of these cavities, causing pain and sometimes headache.

status migrainosus

a rare, sustained, and severe type of migraine, characterized by intense pain and nausea and often leading to hospitalization of the patient.

thermography

a technique sometimes used for diagnosing headache in which an infrared camera converts skin temperature into a color picture, called a thermogram, with different degrees of heat appearing as different colors.

temporomandibular joint dysfunction

a disorder of the joint between the temporal bone (above the ear) and the lower jaw bone that can cause muscle-contraction headaches.

tic douloureux

see trigeminal neuralgia

traction headaches

headaches caused by pulling or stretching pain-sensitive parts of the head, as, for example, when eye muscles are tensed to compensate for eyestrain.

trigeminal neuralgia

a condition resulting from a disorder of the trigeminal nerve. Symptoms are headache and intense facial pain that comes in short, excruciating jabs.

vascular headaches

headaches caused by abnormal function of the brain’s blood vessels or vascular system. Migraine is a type of vascular headache.

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