Migraines are chronic headaches that cause intense pain, and throbbing or pulsing sensations in the head. Along with severe head pain, some people also experience nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. The pain and symptoms of a migraine may last from hours to days at a time. Most people experience recurring migraine headaches that may be triggered by stress, anxiety, hormonal changes, certain foods or changes in sleep patterns. Migraines are more common in women than men and they may develop as a result of genetic or environmental factors. Migraines can begin at any age, though most people experience their first migraine during adolescence.
Causes of a Migraine Headache
Although the exact cause of migraines is unknown, research indicates that there may be a genetic link. They may also be related to changes in brain chemicals, most notably serotonin, which helps regulate pain in the nervous system. There are often certain factors that may trigger a migraine headache, including:
- Blood-sugar levels
- Estrogen levels (in women)
- Sensory related triggers - smells, light or sound
- Environmental changes such as weather
- Alcohol or caffeine
- Emotional stress
While they are not always avoidable, migraines can often be managed by avoiding the triggers, and by maintaining a healthy and stress-free lifestyle.
Symptoms of a Migraine Headache
Prior to the onset of a migraine headache, some people experience early warning signs known as an aura. Auras are nervous system symptoms that are usually visual, such as: flashes of light, blurry vision, blind spots or tunnel vision. Most people with migraine headaches often experience:
- Dull, throbbing or severe pain on one or both sides of the head
- Changes in vision
- Changes in appetite
- Neck pain
- Sensitivity to light and noise
Symptoms may vary for each individual, but most people find that migraines interfere with their regular activities. Symptoms can last from 4 hours to 3 days, and may occur up to several times a month.
Treatment of Migraine Headache
Pain-relief medications, should be taken at the first sign of symptoms of a migraine. These medications include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Anti-nausea medication
There are preventive medications that can be taken daily to reduce the severity and frequency of migraines; they include:
- Cardiovascular drugs
- Anti-seizure drugs
- BOTOX® injections
Alternative treatments for migraine headaches include biofeedback, stress management, chiropractic adjustments, and acupuncture. Relaxation techniques such as muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga, may also help to alleviate the onset of a migraine headache.
- National Institutes of Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
- U.S. National Library of Medicine
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