Migraine Headache

Migraine headaches are a strong type of headache. They can occur at any age, but usually start between the ages of 10 and 30. Migraines happen less often as a person gets older and often stop completely after age 50. If you have a migraine once, you will likely have another one at some point.

The exact cause of migraine headaches is not known. But the tendency to get them can run in families.

Symptoms

Sometimes, certain symptoms will tell you when a migraine is about to begin. This might happen hours or days before your headache begins. These symptoms can go away shortly before the headache starts or may continue for a short time during the headache.

One common warning is a change in mood. You may feel excitable or hyper. Or you may feel just the opposite -- tired and sluggish. You may have nausea or a change in appetite.

Another common warning sign is a change in visual perception. This is called an aura. The most common type of aura is a visual disturbance, like flashes of light, flickering lights, or a blind spot. An aura usually lasts 10 to 30 minutes. The headache often follows within an hour.

Once the migraine headache begins, it can last from 4 to 72 hours. The pain is usually throbbing and affects one side of the head. During a migraine, many people have nausea and vomiting and are very sensitive to light and sound.

Migraine Triggers

Some people who get migraines are able to identify things that trigger their symptoms. Keep track of your migraines. Write down the things that seem to cause them. This can help you find triggers.

Possible triggers include stress and other emotions, fatigue, glaring or flickering lights, and weather changes.

Certain foods and drinks are often linked to migraine attacks. These include chocolate and red wine and well as cheese, onions, fatty foods, and acidic foods like oranges and tomatoes. Some of these foods are rich in tyramine. This is an amino acid that has been linked to migraines.

Avoiding triggers may reduce your chances of getting a migraine.

Diagnosis

To find out if your headaches are migraine headaches, your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and give you a physical exam.

Your provider may also recommend imaging tests. These may include an M-R-I, which uses magnets and a computer to make images, or a C-T scan, which uses a series of x-rays put together with a computer.

Treatment

If you have migraines a lot, you may need to take preventive medication. These medications include beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and hormones.

Preventative medicines also include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs . Some familiar NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

If your migraines do not happen often, you can take medication only when you have a migraine. Take it as soon as you feel it starting. These are called abortive medications.

Other ways to treat migraines include cold packs, a darkened room, and sleep.

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your headache is more intense or lasts longer than usual
  • Your usual medication doesn’t provide relief
  • You have severe vomiting or a fever, or
  • You have any problems with your medication.

Things to Remember

  1. Keep a diary of your headaches and any events that seem to cause them.
  2. Avoid things that seem to trigger your migraines.

Take your medication as soon as you feel a migraine starting.

What We Have Learned

  1. A change in mood can be a warning sign of a migraine. True or false?
    The answer is True. Mood changes are a common symptom before a migraine starts.

  2. A diagnosis of migraine is based mostly on your symptoms. True or false?
    The answer is True. Diagnostic tests may also be done.

  3. Migraines typically last less than 4 hours. True or false?
    The answer is False. Migraines typically last from 4 to 72 hours.