American and Dutch scientists have found that stripes trigger migraines in some patients. The study is the first of its kind to link a pattern to the condition.
And it's not just stripes on clothing that can cause migraine symptoms, according to the study - stripes on animals like the zebra, stripes in art or architecture, and even bar codes were also proven to cause head pain for some study participants. Other individuals experienced migraines triggered by the seemingly innocuous striped patterns of awnings, lawn chairs and radiators.
The Seriousness of Stripes for Migraine Sufferers
According to The Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are the third most prevalent illness in the world. The organization estimates that over 1 billion people experience migraines worldwide, and 38 million American men, women and children are afflicted by the condition.
Over half of those with migraines report missing work, school or family events because of their pain. Most migraine patients report that the pain of their migraines has affected their quality of life.
After being exposed to stripes, study participants experienced migraines, anxiety and seizures. The participants in the study who were most impacted by striped patterns were patients who reported that light sensitivity was a trigger for their head pain or seizure. Bright, flashing or fluorescent lighting are common light sensitivity issues.
Researchers found that vertical stripes were worse for most patients than horizontal stripes.
Stopping Migraines Where They Start
The scientists on the study found that the striped pattern can cause pain in some people by setting off a loop of nerve activity between the brain and the nerves that tell the brain to produce a pain response, known as the sphenopalatine ganglion or SPG. This loop is known as a gamma oscillation.
The SPG is located behind the nasal cavity. It receives information from the trigeminal nerve, one of the main nerves in the face. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for autonomic and involuntary actions like blinking and watering eyes.
Many migraine patients report a sensitivity to light as a trigger for their condition. Other common triggers include certain smells or fragrances, changes in barometric pressure, and food preservatives. Stress is also a very common trigger for many migraine patients.
"Some patients may have single triggers, but most sufferers experience multiple triggers behind their migraine pain," Dr. Michael Budler, M.D. said.
Budler is an interventional radiologist in Grand Island, Nebraska. He treats patients for their migraine pain with a procedure that uses a temporary anesthetic designed to stop the SPG’s ability to respond to the brain’s directive to start a pain response.
The SPG Block Procedure
The procedure, known as the SPG block, takes less than 20 minutes and is performed under local anesthesia in Budler's office. During the SPG block procedure, Budler delivers a numbing fluid to the SPG through a small catheter inserted into the nasal cavity.
Once in place, the fluid numbs the nerves of the sphenopalatine ganglion. After the procedure, when there is a triggering stimulus present and the trigeminal nerve tells the brain send a pain response, the patient does not feel it.
Patients who choose the SPG block procedure experience life free of migraine pain for three to four months after their procedure.
"Many patients who undergo the SPG block frequently decide to have the procedure back to back in order to have longer periods without pain," Budler said.
SPG block patients are also able to reduce their dependence on prescription migraine pain medications and preventative medications.
For many people, long periods without migraine pain means an improved quality of life and the ability to return to school, work and the activities they used to enjoy.
The Telegraph. Stripes in modern life may trigger migraines and seizures, warn scientists. The Telegraph. 8 May 2017.
Migraine Research Foundation. Migraine Facts. 2017.