A migraine is a serious form of headache. Usually, it differs from a less severe headache, such as a muscle tension headache, in that it causes a very intense pulsing or throbbing pain. This is often felt on just one side of the head. Migraines, which can last from a few hours to a few days, affect about 10 percent of the population.
Some migraines, called classic migraines, are preceded by an "aura," described as flashing lights or other disturbances in your vision. Migraines that don’t begin with an aura are called common migraines. In addition to the telltale throbbing pain, migraine sufferers may also experience nausea and vomiting, light or noise sensitivity, blurred vision, fatigue, sweating, stiff neck and other unpleasant symptoms.
Causes of Migraines
Migraines seem to be related to serotonin levels in the body. In some people, when serotonin levels become low, the blood vessels swell, which can lead to migraine pain. People also seem to have triggers for migraines. These can include bright lights, loud noises, strong odors or changes in the weather. Smoking, not getting enough sleep and intense physical activity, including sex, seem to bring on migraines in others. Certain foods can trigger migraines, and some women get them along with hormonal changes caused by menstruation or use of birth control pills.
There's no cure for migraines, but many people have been able to manage their migraines by reducing their frequency and also treating the symptoms of the migraine when it occurs. For some, over-the-counter pain medications are sufficient for relieving the symptoms of a migraine. But others may need to see a doctor to get a prescription medication for migraine relief. Many can also help manage an active migraine by resting in a dark room or using a cold compress or a head massage to relieve the symptoms. Keeping a healthy sleep schedule, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding triggers all seem to play a role in preventing migraines.
SOURCES: U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; American Academy of Family Physicians
Non-narcotic drug far more effective in new study
Heightened risk of stroke not borne out in preliminary study
For starters, know your triggers
Underlying conditions could prolong recovery, researcher says
Addictive painkillers should be treatment of last resort, headache expert says
High-quality medications for migraine headaches are being underused, according to a new study
Alternative treatment yielded better results in emergency room patients
Doctors now rely on medications approved for other purposes
Treating before a headache starts might lead to more effective pain relief, specialist says
Both obesity and being underweight increase migraine risk, study finds.
Study found risk increased in both obese and underweight people
Problem also more likely in men and patients under 39, though chances are still low
But one headache expert says procedure not without risks, pain relief not significantly better than meds
Study found electrical stimulation reduced ache if started soon enough
One-third are prescribed for conditions like pain or migraine with little scientific backup, study says
The risk is small, but concerning, researchers say
Pain is so intense it often wakes people from their sleep, neurologist says
Researchers suggest doctors consider severe headaches a potential risk factor for brain attack
Researchers found sugar pill worked as well as commonly prescribed drugs
People who get the severe headaches have more nitrate-reducing microbes, researchers say
Study participants who had sham treatment reported pain relief, too
Does chiropractic spinal manipulation help prevent migraines?
People with migraines had 40 percent higher risk of thyroid problems, study suggests
Sound therapy balances brain signals, researcher says
International team reports 30 new variants
But study couldn't determine if supplements made a difference
Begins working within 3 to 7 days, study finds
Study sees big drop in levels of the female hormone in the days before menstruation
Researchers say it should be considered an independent risk factor for future heart trouble
Family activities, parenting duties often affected, survey finds
Learn as much as possible about your condition