The American Migraine Association estimates that 39 million people in the U.S. live with migraines. If you're one of them, you know how debilitating this recurring form of headache can be.

The most common symptoms include throbbing pain, nausea, fatigue and blurred vision. Some people with migraines suffer these symptoms for days.

About a quarter of migraine sufferers experience an aura that precedes their headache. This aura is a sensory disturbance that can include light flashes, blind spots, double vision and tingling sensations or limb numbness.

What exactly triggers the intense headache pain and the aura has been somewhat of a mystery … until now.

This discovery will likely lead to the development of new, targeted pharmaceuticals.

A new study conducted with mice in a lab, by scientists at the University of Rochester in the U.S. and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, offers clues to migraine's pain and sensory disturbances.

While migraine auras arise in the brain, the brain itself cannot sense pain. The migraine's pain comes from areas transmitted from the central nervous system to our peripheral nervous system, the study found. The peripheral nervous system runs throughout the body and is made up of all the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. It makes involuntary processes like heart rate and digestion possible and provides us with our sense of touch.

“We've identified a new signaling pathway and several molecules that activate sensory nerves in the peripheral nervous system. Among the identified molecules are those already associated with migraines, but we didn't know exactly how and where the migraine-inducing action occurred,” lead author, Martin Kaag Ramussen, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Copenhagen, explained in a press release.

Knowing the pain's pathway may help to benefit lots of folks who suffer with migraines since this discovery will likely lead to the development of new, targeted pharmaceuticals. Right now, there's a sizeable portion of migraine sufferers who don't adequately respond to available medications.

The researchers also learned why migraine sufferers only feel pain on one side of their heads. It turns out that pain-causing proteins mostly reach the nerves on the trigeminal ganglion (a structure containing a number of nerve cells) on the same side. The trigeminal ganglion is the largest cranial ganglion which transmits information from the face and jaws to the brain.

No matter its intensity, migraine pain should not be ignored. According to study co-author Maiken Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Copenhagen, pain is a warning sign that should be heeded. “The pain is protective because it's telling the person to rest and recover and sleep,” he said.

If you suffer with migraines, the American Migraine Foundation (AMF) points out several lifestyle changes you can make that may reduce the frequency or intensity of your headache. They include:

  • Having a consistent sleep schedule
  • Making exercising part of your routine
  • Avoiding specific foods like red wine and caffeine which are known to be triggers
  • Staying well-hydrated
  • Keeping a diary of when you get migraines to help identify triggers

The study is published in Science.