What is a migraine headache?

Migraine headache is a special type of headache that can last for hours to days. It can cause intense pain as well as other symptoms, such as feeling sick in your stomach or changes in your vision.

For years it has been thought that migraine headaches are caused when the blood vessels in the head contract and then swell, producing pain. Recent research shows that certain substances or events trigger an imbalance of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). Common factors that cause migraine include:
changes in the weather
certain foods
MSG or food preservatives, such as nitrates
red wine
bright lights
Migraines tend to occur in families. They affect women 3 times more often than men. They often occur during or just before a woman’s menstruation.

Before a migraine begins, there is often a warning period when you are not feeling well. Some people lose part of their vision or see bright spots or zigzag patterns in front of their eyes. These symptoms, which may precede and predict a migraine headache, are called a migraine aura. The vision changes of the aura usually subside as the headache begins.

Symptoms of migraine may include:
throbbing headache
extreme sensitivity of eyes to light
blurred vision
nausea and vomiting
numbness or tingling of the face or one arm;

The pain is usually more intense on one side of the head but can affect the entire head.

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, medical history and will examine you. There are no laboratory tests or X-rays to diagnose migraine headaches.
A careful history of your headaches is very useful.

Your doctor may ask you to keep a headache diary in which you record the following:
date and time of each attack
how long the headache lasts
type of pain (for example, dull, acute, pulsating or feeling of pressure)
location of pain
any symptoms before the headache starts
foods and drinks you had before the headache started (This should include checking the ingredients in the product ingredient list of the packaged foods you have eaten.)
use of cigarettes, caffeine, alcohol or carbonated drinks before the headache begins
the time you went to bed and the time you got up before the headache started
if you are a woman, your menstrual periods and the use of birth control pills or other female hormones

Depending on your headache symptoms, your doctor may recommend tests to check for other, more serious causes of your symptoms. For example, you may have a brain MRI.

Prevention is an important part of treatment. For instance:
You may need to switch to a healthier diet.
Relaxation exercises can help you manage stress.
Your headache diary may suggest certain foods or activities to avoid.
You may need to take medications regularly to prevent severe and frequent headaches. Medications that your doctor may prescribe include propranolol, verapamil, and antidepressants.
preparations such as ergotamine, ergonovine or methysergide. You may need to try a drug for several weeks to see if it works.

Your doctor may prescribe other medications to help prevent migraines from becoming serious as soon as they start. It is best to take the medicine as soon as possible after the onset of a headache.

Symptoms last from a few hours to a few days. You may have migraines the rest of your life. However, the appearances of migraines usually occur less frequently as you grow older.

When a migraine begins:
As soon as possible after the onset of symptoms of headache, take an analgesic such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or the medicine prescribed by your doctor.
Rest in a quiet, dark room until symptoms improve . Putting a cool, moist cloth on your forehead can help.
Call your doctor immediately if you have unusual symptoms such as:
stiff neck
symptoms of the nervous system such as difficulty speaking, weakness of hands or feet, or paralysis;


You can do the following to prevent migraines:
Eat regular meals.
Avoid foods from the list below if eating them seems to be causing your headaches:
Wine and beer
Aged and processed cheeses
Aged, canned, cured and processed meat
Breads made with yeast and yeast extracts
Foods containing cheese, chocolate or nuts
Ask your doctor about avoiding medications that can cause headaches
If you are taking birth control pills or other female hormones, ask your doctor if you should stop taking them
Ask your doctor about medications you can take daily to try to prevent migraine headaches
Avoid smoking
Get regular rest
Try to balance work, relaxation, recreation and rest in your life
Try to recognize and avoid stress
Do not drive a car during migraine

If your symptoms get worse or if they do not improve when taking medicine, make another appointment with your doctor. It may take several visits to find the best way to control your headaches.

Similar Medical Services