If you’ve never had a migraine, you might think it’s just a really bad headache but if you’ve had ever had one, or you know someone who gets them, you know that they are much worse than that and much more complicated. A true migraine is a multi-symptom disorder of the nervous system that affects the brain. But yes, really bad headaches are a major component of it — probably the most significant and identifiable component. But usually they last longer than a normal headache, anywhere from four hours to several days. And it brings along with it a whole array of other symptoms. Most migraine sufferers experience extreme sensitivity to light and sound and sometimes even smells. They also commonly experience nausea, vomiting, and even fainting. What little relief they can find is generally only achieved by being in a still, dark, silent room until the symptoms pass. And believe it or not, it gets worse! Migraines also cause problems before and after the headache. It’s different for everyone, but the ordeal can start with symptoms as seemingly minor as constipation, weird food cravings, neck stiffness, and excessive yawning. As the symptoms worsen, people generally enter a phase called “aura” in which they may experience things like visual disturbances, like seeing shapes or lights, blurred, or double vision, or even loss of vision, pins and needles sensations in the extremities, weakness, and sometimes even slurred speech. Now you may notice that these sound a lot like the symptoms of a stroke. And in fact, migraines have so many things in common with strokes, that doctors sometimes have to do tests to determine which disorder they’re dealing with. After the headache has passed, most migraine sufferers experience a period of weakness and fatigue that can last from a few hours to a few days. Obviously this isn’t the sort of thing that anybody wants to experience – so, what causes it, can it be controlled, or at least treated? Doctors think that migraines are probably caused by a sharp drop in your brain’s level of serotonin, a neural transmitter that plays a key role in regulating things like sleep and mood. And once that imbalance strikes, it causes a whole cascade of effects. But what actually triggers this imbalance is complicated and uncertain We do know that one of the most important factors is genetics. If one or both of your parents has experienced a migraine, odds are that you will as well. For reasons that we do not understand, women are far more likely to have migraines than men. And they are even more likely to experience one during times of hormonal changes. For example: puberty, menstruation, ovulation, pregnancy, when using hormonal contraceptives, or hormone replacements, and during menopause. Beyond that, everyone’s triggers are different. For many people it may depend on their stress, their activity level, or sleep schedule — all things in which serotonin plays a role. And still others may be triggered by things that are seemingly random as bright lights, loud sounds, unusually strong smells, or even weather changes. The treatment of migraines is further evidence that it is not just a headache It’s true that the headache itself can sometimes be treated with pain relievers, although they’re less effective. So in addition to pain relief, migraine sufferers take medications that try to treat the source of the attacks, like by controlling the constriction of the blood vessels in the brain, blood pressure, serotonin levels, and inflammation. So clearly a migraine is more than just a bad headache, remember that when you hang out with people who get them — if they’re in a bad way, the biggest favor you can give them is just let them be by themselves in a dark room. You can keep watching SciShow, but just do it very quietly. And thank you for watching this SciShow dose — especially to our Subbable subscribers who keep these episodes comin’. If you’d like some neat swag, like a SciShow chocolate bar or an autographed DVD collection, go to Subabble.com to learn more. If you have any questions or ideas for an episode you’d like to see, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, down in the comments below. And if you wanna keep getting smarter with us here at SciShow, you can go to Youtube.com/SciShow and subscribe!