Migraine headaches are more complex than most typical headaches are, in three ways. For one thing, rather than just involving constriction (narrowing) of the blood vessels, dilation (widening) also occurs. For another, an aura can be involved – an anomaly in the sensory part of the brain such as seeing specks or lines that aren't there. Finally, additional symptoms beyond head pain are often present.
Experience of a broader set of symptoms is widespread. For instance, 8 out of every 10 migraineurs experience hypersensitivity to bright lights, a.k.a. photophobia, during attacks (1). A recent study on migraine sufferers pinpointed the nerves causing that specific symptom.
It's always been unclear to neurologists exactly why light hypersensitivity is so common among those with migraines. Research conducted by a Harvard professor zoned in on the specific nerves, which amazingly are activated during attacks in some visually impaired patients just as they are in those with normal eyesight.
The researchers note that their findings are a stepping stone to treatment aimed specifically at photophobia. Knowing which nerves are responsible represents major progress toward stopping an increase in pain when light is intense.
The fact that patients who were visually impaired were experiencing light hypersensitivity was an important clue for the professor, Rami Burstein. Wishing to better understand that specific population, he formed two sets of blind migraine sufferers: one that could perceive light and the other that could not (completely blind).
For those visually impaired subjects who were incapable of gauging light levels, no hypersensitivity to light was experienced. The other group, however, reported the photophobia symptom. By verifying that perception of light is crucial to the symptom, Burstein was able to determine that the optic nerve was a critical component. No light signals are transmitted via the optic nerve to the brain in completely blind people.
The next step for the researchers was to look at sleeping patterns. Knowing when to fall asleep and went to wake up is determined by light perception, so a person who is fully blind will often have a nonstandard sleep schedule.
Cells in the retina that control sleeping patterns contain a compound called melanopsin. By marking melanopsin with dyes in rats suffering from migraine attacks (yes, rodents get them too), the researchers located the part of the brain that activated in response to the melanopsin transmission during the headaches.
Some of the new science coming out on migraines and headaches is fascinating. However, thousands of migraine sufferers throughout the United States are already benefiting from a revolutionary, bipartite treatment method: MiRx™ Protocol. Talk with your doctor or find a provider today.