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
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