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Headaches and migraines: Vision, vertigo and dizziness

The symptoms and discomfort from migraines can go far beyond excruciating head pain. Many people who get headaches, especially those who get migraines, also experience vision problems, dizziness and vertigo.

What causes migraines?

Around one in seven people in the UK have migraines. Despite their common occurrence, experts still don't know what causes some people to experience these often debilitating headaches.

Scientists once thought migraine headaches resulted from the constriction of arteries in certain parts of the brain. Experts now believe that migraines may be caused by problems in the nervous system. The problems ultimately lead to swelling of blood vessels on the brain surface, which may lead to migraines.

Changing levels of some hormones, especially oestrogen, may also be related to the development of migraines. That may explain why more women than men experience these headaches. Changes in the amount of neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain have also been implicated. Blood vessels can swell when levels of serotonin fall.

What's the relationship between migraines and vision problems?

Roughly one in three migraine headaches are preceded by an aura. The aura often includes visual symptoms. Vision problems usually appear 20 minutes to an hour before the headache starts. They may include blind spots or the appearance of flashing lights, spots of light or wavy lines in the field of vision.

Migraines without aura, the most common type of migraine, do not produce aura symptoms to warn of their onset. However they can still cause vision problems and dizziness.

The International Headache Society also recognises a type of migraine known as retinal migraine. This type of migraine produces a variety of visual symptoms. People with retinal migraines may have blindness in one eye before and during the headache. Other serious conditions such as optic nerve problems or a tear in the arteries that supply blood to the brain may cause one-sided blindness. So it's important to consult a health care professional immediately to rule out other causes. Fortunately, the blindness or visual deficits caused by retinal migraine resolve completely when attacks subside.

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