Introduction

Migraine headache pain can be severe and accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to odors, light and sound. If untreated, migraine symptoms can be so severe that people need to lie down for a few hours or days. Although there is no cure for migraines, there are a variety of effective treatments including medications to relieve symptoms, medications to prevent episodes, and lifestyle changes that can help.

Anatomy

Researchers suspect that migraines may be caused by a nerve impulses (trigeminal nerve) that sends signals about pain and also causes the blood vessels (arteries) that send blood to the head to open wider (dilate) and cause pain.

Causes

Migraines are a type of primary headache, meaning that they are not caused by an underlying medical condition. The precise cause of migraine headache is unknown; however, researchers suspect that it involves changes in the way the trigeminal nerve functions and certain brain chemical fluctuations.

Symptoms

Migraines cause moderate to severe pain. The pain may occur on one side or both sides of your head. Your pain may get worse with exercise or activity. The pain may pulse or throb. You may have nausea or vomiting. You may be sensitive to odors, light or sound. Some people experience an aura before a migraine begins. An aura may include seeing flashes or zigzags of light, feeling pins and needles in an arm or leg, or weakness or speech problems. Some people experience other symptoms (prodome) such as feeling tired, irritable, depressed, thirsty, or energetic or cravings for sweet food. Migraines can last from hours to days and may recur.

Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose migraine headache by reviewing your medical history and symptoms. Your examination may include imaging tests, such as CT scans or MRI scans, to rule out more serious conditions. You may be asked to keep a record of your headaches for your doctor to review.

Treatment

There are a variety of medications to help relieve the symptoms of migraines. Migraines are treated with over-the-counter or prescription pain-relieving medications. Your doctor may prescribe preventative medications as well.

Prevention

Your doctor may prescribe medication to help prevent migraines from occurring. You may help prevent migraine headaches by:

• Avoiding the triggers that cause your migraines, such as alcohol or specific foods
• Perform regular aerobic exercise
• Ask your doctor about possible alternatives if you take estrogen medication
• Establish regular sleep patterns
• Practice relaxation techniques

Am I at Risk

Triggers and Risk Factors for Migraines:

• Hormonal changes associated with menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, or hormonal medication
• Not eating or skipping meals
• Certain foods including alcohol, aged cheese, chocolate, fermented food, pickled food, marinated food, or MSG
• Stress
• Bright lights or glare
• Certain odors or scents
• Changes in sleep pattern
• Intense physical activity such as exercise or sexual activity
• Certain medications
• Weather, seasons, pressure, or altitude changes

Complications

Untreated migraines can be disabling and interfere with work or social activities.

Advancements

BOTOX® injections, acupuncture, biofeedback and behavior therapy can be used to help prevent migraines from occurring. Recent research indicates that taking headache medications early, at the onset of the headache, can shorten the headache duration.