The relationship between trauma and migraines

Blurred view of an elderly woman with migraineMigraine Headaches are one of the most common chronic conditions in the world. Depending on the study, chronic migraines affect about 1 in 10 people, with twice as many female sufferers.

Migraine headaches cause disability and cause significant loss of productivity and quality of life. Once they hit, a migraine can last anywhere between 4 and 72 hours. In addition to substantially reducing the quality of life, frequent migraines can endanger their work and prevent their daily functioning.

Currently, the causes of migraine headaches are not well understood. Genetics is thought to play a role as well as environmental impacts and changes in the way the brain interacts with the trigeminal nerve, a path of pain.

An adverse response to anxiety?

It may be that migraine headaches are the result of a poor adaptation of the brain to anxiety. Researchers have found that when the migraine is triggered, body responses (pain, increased stress hormones, nausea and vomiting) go beyond normal. Even during periods without migraine, the brain of a menstrual is more irritable in response to stimuli.

If we understand how the brain works at the nervous level, we know that much of what is going on inside the brain is inhibitory. It is not optimal to have undesirable neurochemicals circulating in the brain. Hypersecretion in the brain reduces the effectiveness of tranquillization mechanisms in the brain and increases the sensitivity of pain. This means that the response of the brain to the stimulus between the attacks increases in an abnormal way.

We know that the experience of stress is an important factor in migraine. Work stress and stress in the home contribute to the possibility of a migraine episode.

Kidney injuries and headaches

We know that excessive anxiety can change the brain and its reaction to the inner environment or its thoughts and its external environment or to lights, sounds and other stimuli. Adults exposed to ongoing stress or trauma while growing often have reduced ability to calm both mentally and physically as a reaction to anxiety.

A difficult childhood is not a life sentence of increased stress and discomfort. We can take action to change our response to stress.

When we look at migraine patients as a group, we see a relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and migraine headaches. Examples of ACE include domestic violence, emotional neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse.

Researchers have also begun to explore the relationship between unfavorable childhood experiences and headaches. People with migraine headaches are more than twice as likely to have ACEs as domestic violence while they are growing up.

How the effects of migraine injuries: a possible mechanism

The link between childhood stress and migraines is probably associated, at least in part, with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).

The HPA axis is a complex set of interactions between the pituitary and adrenal glands. This hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis controls and regulates body processes associated with stress reactions. It is easily understood as a race or flight reaction. When a person feels a threat, the body reacts appropriately. The energy is removed from the digestive and immune system and moved to the muscles to get ready to run or fight. The adrenal glands are excited and the heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rates are increasing. This is an energy-cost situation and not for optimal growth or rehabilitation activities.

It is well understood that repeated exposure to stress and trauma during childhood often results in a reduced ability to regulate the stress response during its lifetime. Childhood trauma affects the HPA axis. This means that over time, the HPA shaft loses its ability to effectively control the stress response. In periods of discomfort, the person has an intense reaction that lasts too long. The result is the overexposure of the body and the brain to high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

Migraines may be associated with the same neurochemical conditions associated with trauma, depression and anxiety, with a hyperactive response to stress (deregulation of the HPA axis) playing a role. A study of certain neurochemical factors in migraine sufferers found abnormal patterns of hypothalamic hormone secretion, a condition that is also associated with child trauma and abuse.

What can we do to help?

A difficult childhood is not a life sentence of increased stress and discomfort. We can take action to change our response to stress. Exercise and meditation have been proven to help calm the mind and body. These activities can begin to reverse the damage caused by an overactive HPA axis. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is also an effective tool for learning response strategies and allows individuals to more control reactions to daily events that cause anxiety.

Research on migraine and childhood injury is relatively new and not well understood. However, if we understand that stress plays a role in migraines, taking stress reduction measures can help reduce the incidence and duration of migraine attacks. At the very least, reducing stress can help us in every aspect of life, giving us more resilience to cope with a migraine when it is activated.

If you think stress or trauma is a source of migraines for you, learning how to manage your response to stress in treatment could help. Start your search for an authorized and sympathetic consultant here.

Bibliographical references:

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© Copyright 2019 All rights reserved. The publication authorization was granted by Fabiana Franco, PhD, a therapist in New York, New York

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