Thursday, August 9, 2007

Women Are From Mars....

We all know the rest of that title. The pop culture idiom that summarizes the differences between the sexes. The over simplification of why men would rather watch football while the women would rather be hitting the outlets looking for yet another pair of black shoes. It's almost like our brains are wired in completely different ways.

Well, hold on. It turns out that may in fact be the case. Researchers at UCLA have conducted an admittedly brief study on why women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men. Migraines, if you have never had the displeasure, are intense headaches that include sensitivity to light, sound and often are preceded by an aura. By aura it doesn't mean they see the essence of people (how cool would THAT be?), it just means they see shapes and outlines of light just before or at the onset of a migraine.

My wife suffers from them on occasion and they knock her out for the good portion of the day. I also have two good friends that suffer from them and they are both women. Turns out an estimated 18-25% of all women suffer migraines and it may be even higher than that as many go unreported due to milder symptoms or shorter episodes.

For years now doctors thought migraines were the result of restriction of blood flow to the brain, but recent, enhanced technology has shown that they are more the result of brain 'excitability'. Women's brains are more excitable than men's. I have about a dozen jokes for this revelation, but I don't think those that suffer from them would really appreciate them. While I've never experienced one, I can barely stand when my sinuses are acting up, never mind not being able to stand up or need complete darkness just so you don't kill yourself. I'll pass on the jokes today.

According to Dr. Andrew Charles, director of the Headache Research and Treatment Program in the UCLA Department of Neurology and Dr. Kevin C. Brennan, a clinical and research fellow in Charles' lab, people with migraines display cortical spreading depression (CSD henceforth). CSD 'is characterized by dramatic waves of activity that spread across the surface of the brain'. So women's brains are more dramatic and excitable than men's brains. Must...not....joke.....

Running off this new knowledge, the good doctors ran a study on mice and tried to stimulate CSD activity in both male and female mice. Their findings? 'The strength of the stimulus required to trigger CSD in males was up to two or three times higher than that required to trigger the response in females.' I wonder what kind of visual stimulus they used. Because I'm betting if they used topless babe mice dancing in front of them, the male mice would be CSDing all over the place. Shit...couldn't get through it....

A variety of differences between the sexes are thought to be contributing causes for the reason women are more susceptible to migraines. Hormones, genes, environmental changes in sleep, diet and stress all are factors. And, while migraines tend to be more acute during a woman's menstrual cycle, the researchers found that (at least with the mice) 'the female brain has an intrinsic excitability that predisposes them to migraine that may not be simply linked to a specific phase of the menstrual cycle'. In other words, gentlemen, stop blaming your girlfriend's bad moods and headaches on her period. Science is proving they may not be related. You sexist pigs!

Since we now know (or at least suspect) 'CSD may in turn trigger not only the pain of migraine but the visual symptoms, nausea, dizziness and difficulty concentrating so common in migraine patients' you may be asking yourself, what good does that do us? Are you asking yourself that? You better be! What it does is allow us to find ways to inhibit CSD or at least increase the thresholds so the migraines are fewer and far between. In fact - hold onto your hats - another study has found that a medication called memantine stops CSD episodes. It's currently being used with Alzheimer patients, but is now being prescribed for frequent migraine sufferers with great success.

Hope is coming, migraine people. Especially you, lovely ladies. Try to keep that in mind when the next migraine debilitates you and your selfish, insensitive boyfriend/husband is bitching about being bored. Stupid boyfriend/husband.


Today's distraction: Play Brain Splatters 2. I have no idea what the rules are or how to play. In fact, I pick a direction and wind up getting shot in the head over and over. Stupid game.

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