Migraines: An Overview

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Do you suffer from intense headaches...are these headaches accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting...do they last for hours or even days...well if you answered yes to the aforementioned questions you may be suffering from migraines.

Migraine Woman

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a type of headache.

What is the cause of migraines?

The exact cause is unknown. However researchers believe they occur as a result of a complex interaction between the nervous system, vascular system and various brain chemicals.

What are migraine symptoms?

Individuals suffering from migraines usually experience: throbbing pain on one side of the head, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, lightheadedness and/or sensitivity to light and sounds.

Can individuals sense when they are going to experience a migraine?

Yes, it may be possible for individuals to sense an imminent migraine. Before an individual experiences a migraine they may feel what is commonly referred to as an aura.

What is an aura?

An aura is a sensory phenomenon many individuals go through before a migraine...it can be anything from visual changes to arm and leg pain.

What typically provokes a migraine attack?

Migraine triggers may differ from person to person but some of the more common ones include: hormonal changes, stress, intense physical exertion, and increased consumption of alcohol, caffeine and/or aged cheeses.

Can migraines be prevented?

Yes, a migraine attack can be prevented...some of the most successful migraine prevention strategies include:

Avoiding migraine triggers - If certain foods or situations typically lead to migraines, try to avoid them.

Regular exercise - Regular exercise can help reduce stress and tension, and therefore help prevent migraines.

Getting enough sleep - Consistent lack of sleep increases stress on the body and mind...increased stress can put individuals at risk for migraines...getting the recommended six to eight hours of sleep per night can help individuals avoid an increase in stress and therefore help prevent migraines.

Dark and ice - Entering a dark quiet room and placing an ice pack on the back of the neck at the beginning of a migraine attack may help elevate the severity and duration of the migraine.

Should individuals suffering from migraines contact their health care provider?

Yes, migraines can be very serious and dramatically impact one's day-to-day life.

How do health care providers determine if an individual is suffering from migraines?

Health care providers base their diagnosis on an individual's medical history and physical exam.

If individuals receive a migraine diagnosis should they be encouraged to seek treatment?

Yes, if left untreated migraines may increase in intensity and frequency.

How are migraines treated?

Health care providers typically use a variety of medications to treat migraines...these medications fall into two broad categories: pain-relieving medications and preventive medications.

Pain-relieving medications - Pain-relieving medications are taken during a migraine attack to relieve symptoms that have already begun. Examples of pain-relieving medications include: ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), sumatriptan (Imitrex), rizatriptan (Maxalt) and zolmitriptan (Zomig).

Preventative medications - Preventative medications are taken regularly to help reduce the intensity and frequency of migraines. Examples of preventative medications include: topiramate (Topamax) and propranolol (Inderal LA).

Migraine Pathophysiology Video


Video : What is migraine?



About the Author

Marc Macera, PharmD, RPh's picture


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