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Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. www.ninds.nih.gov A theory of migraine which explains blood flow changes in the brain and also certain biochemical changes that may be involved in the headache process. Reacting to the reduced oxygen supply, certain arteries within the brain open wider to meet the brain's energy needs. This widening or dilation spreads, finally affecting the neck and scalp arteries. Reduced blood flow decreases the brain's supply of oxygen. Symptoms signaling a headache, such as distorted vision or speech, may then result, similar to symptoms of stroke. As these arteries constrict, the flow of blood to the brain is reduced. At the same time, blood-clotting particles called platelets clump together-a process which is believed to release a chemical called serotonin. Serotonin acts as a powerful constrictor of arteries, further reducing the blood supply to the brain. The nervous system responds to a trigger such as stress by causing a spasm of the nerve-rich arteries at the base of the brain. The spasm closes down or constricts several arteries supplying blood to the brain, including the scalp artery and the carotid or neck arteries. Arteries of the Neck and Brain The circulation of these chemicals and the dilation of the scalp arteries stimulate the pain-sensitive nociceptors. The result, according to this theory: a throbbing pain in the head. The dilation of these arteries triggers the release of pain-producing substances called prostaglandins from various tissues and blood cells. Chemicals which cause inflammation and swelling, and substances which increase sensitivity to pain, are also released. LifeART Collection Images Copyright © 1989-2001 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, MD Blood Flow Changes in the Brain