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Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms

Abdominal migraine

A type of migraine, in which the pain is over the upper part of the abdomen and lasts a few hours. It is most common in female children. Diagnosis is easily made because of the family history of migraine, the infrequency of the attacks, and the frequent simultaneous occurrence of headache. If it remains undiagnosed, however, the patient may be subjected to unnecessary surgery for abdominal complaints.


An ancient Chinese procedure which blocks pain by stimulating nerves. It is based on the theory that a counter- irritant (puncturing) prevents the painful impulses from traveling up the spinal cord and thereby blocks them.


A weakness in the blood vessel wall that balloons out and may rupture at some point. Aneurysms rarely cause symptoms before the rupture, unless they are large. They do not mimic the symptoms of migraine or cluster headache. It is vital to discover them before they rupture and have catastrophic consequences such as paralysis or death.

Basilar artery migraine

A type of migraine that can occur in younger people, with the headache most often limited to the back of the head. The symptoms are caused by a diminished blood supply to the parts of the brain supplied by the basilar artery. Besides nausea, patients may have double vision, unsteady gait, and slurred speech and may seem confused. During the acute headache, many lose consciousness. Often these patients are mistakenly thought to be drunk or mentally ill. A previous history of migraine is helpful in making the diagnosis.

Cluster headache

A one-sided headache usually occurring in or around one eye and typically of short duration, usually lasting several minutes to several hours at the most. It is called cluster because it occurs in a group or series. The patient has tearing of the eye, nasal congestion, facial flushing, and constriction of the pupil on the side of the headache. The series may last several months, occurring more frequently in the fall and spring, and the headaches may disappear for several months or several years. Some forms of cluster headache, however, occur chronically.


An inflammation of the brain itself, usually caused by a bacteria or virus, and a serious cause of headache. The bacteria type can be treated with antibiotics. The viral type may cause continual headache after the infection has sub- sided, as well as permanent neurological problems.


An inflammation of the brain coverings that is almost always associated with headache. The inflammation causes a stiff neck, which is typical of meningitis, and a high temperature. Immediate care is necessary. A spinal tap will usually confirm the diagnosis of meningitis and with modern antibiotics, about 99% of the cases can be cured. The headache is not chronic, but acute.

MSG (monosodium glutamate) headache

It has been found that monosodium glutamate can cause headaches or other symptoms in susceptible people. It is often added to Chinese foods, with wonton soup a frequent offender. However, it is also found in many processed meats and tenderizers. Symptoms occur within 30 minutes of ingesting MSG, as the stomach rapidly absorbs it. Although the headache chiefly affects the temples, there may also be perspiration, tightness, and pressure over the face and chest.

Ophthalmologic migraine

A rare type of headache that occurs in children or young adults. Associated with the headache, there is paralysis of the third nerve and there may be drooping of the eyelid, dilation of the pupils, and paralysis of the eye muscles. This is a temporary type of migraine, and patients usually have a family history of similar attacks.

Rebound headache

A daily headache that is caused by the overuse of medications.

Tension-type headache

A non-specific headache, which is not vascular or migrainous, and is not related to organic disease. It is caused by a tightening of the muscles at the back of the neck and of the face and scalp. Muscle contraction headache is a steady, mild headache, and is sometimes described as having a bandlike or hat-band distribution around the head. It can occur episodically, that is, occasionally, or once or twice a month, and is usually best treated with simple aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) compounds. The simple, episodic tension headache is often associated with fatigue and the stresses of life. These people rarely consult a physician for their headaches. Those who do seek the help of the physician have a chronic type of muscle contraction headache, which may be due to a psychological problem or to a masked or hidden depression.


A naturally occurring substance in the protein of the body that is also found in certain foods and beverages. Ingestion of these foods can cause more frequent migraine attacks.


Drugs that reduce the perception of pain by raising the patient’s pain threshold. They are not cures for pain; they simply mask it. Analgesics range from plain aspirin or acetaminophen to narcotics like morphine and Demerol.


The warnings usually occur just a few minutes before the initial migraine attack. They may take the form of a feeling elation, a clearer awareness of color, variations in mood, an increase in energy, or a feeling of hunger or thirst. Conversely, some patients may get a feeling of depression. Classical auras can be positive, as in visions of bright lights or stars, or lines resembling forts (known as fortification spectra), or they can be negative, as in seeing blind spots or only part of the visual field. The warnings may also distort figures or shapes. Some people get tingling, pins-and-needles sensations in one arm or leg (paresthesias). Some describe a strange odor. All of these are the warnings, or aura, of migraine.


A method of treatment in which one is taught to control the body by feeding back the results of performance. With humans, the feedback is artificially mediated by man-made detection, amplification, and display instrumentation rather than being present as an inborn feedback loop within the biological system.


This emotional state may be the cause of a daily, unrelenting headache which peaks in the morning and late after- noon. It is often accompanied by a sleep disturbance in the form of frequent and early waking. Migraine patients with frequent attacks often have depression as one of the complications of their migraines. Also, patients with chronic pain syndromes are often markedly depressed.

Hemiplegic migraine

A very rare form of migraine in which there is paralysis of the arm or leg on one side of the body. The paralysis can occur before, during, or after the onset of a headache. There is frequently a family history of headaches with similar types of attacks. The attacks are usually temporary, but they may be prolonged and can cause some permanent paralysis.


A normal substance present in the body, which is released if tissues are injured. Histamine has been implicated as one of the substances in the blood considered to be a causative factor in cluster headache, and it has also been considered a provocative factor in migraine headaches. If histamine is given to a migraine patient, it can provoke a migraine-like headache.

Menstrual migraine

It is very common for a woman to get migraine headaches exclusively with her periods or at ovulation. A drop in estrogen levels during these times may be a precipitating cause. Menstrual migraine can be adequately treated with small doses of ergotamine or anti-inflammatory drugs prior to and during the woman’s period.

Nitrates and nitrites

Nitrates are used to treat coronary heart disease and nitrites are used as food additives to prevent botulism in meats. Both of these substances can increase vasodilatation and thus increase the tendency toward migraine attacks.


A chemical substance primarily present in the platelets. It is a potent constrictor of the blood vessels and is thought to be involved in the mechanism of migraine.


The area affected by sinusitis is usually above the eyes (frontal sinus) or below the eyes (maxillary sinus). The pain very often follows an upper respiratory infection that blocks the sinuses and is caused by a stretching of the lining of the open cavities and the formation of pus within the sinuses, which will not drain. Often the areas above or below the eyes, where the sinuses are located, are very tender. Chronic sinus disease rarely causes head pain. Acute sinusitis, associated with a fever and a blocked sinus, can cause acute head pain.


A narrowing or a clamping down of the blood vessel.


A swelling or distention of a blood vessel.