by Ron Kurtus (revised 17 April 2015)
Of all the headaches that people may get, migraine headaches are the worse. Not only are they more painful than other types of headaches, but they also are more difficult to diagnose and to treat.
Questions you may have include:
- What are the symptoms of a migraine headache?
- What is the cause of a migraine?
- What is the treatment?
This lesson will answer those questions. Health Disclaimer
Symptoms of a migraine
Although a headache can be painful and annoying, a migraine headache can interfere with all of your activities. Symptoms include a long-lasting, intense pain that can almost disable a person.
Severe throbbing pain
One indication that a headache is a migraine is severe, throbbing pain, often on one side of the head. Sometimes there is sensitivity to noise and light, and nausea and vomiting may occur. Some migraine sufferers have headache warning signs called auras. These may include strange smells, arm or leg numbness, or flashing lights or blind spots in their vision.
Difficult to diagnose
Not only is it difficult to tell for sure that a headache is a migraine, there are no lab tests to detect migraines. Accurately describing symptoms to a doctor is the only way to get a diagnosis and treatment.
Cause of migraines is unclear
The cause of migraines is unclear, but such factors as lack of sleep or eating certain foods can bring them on. Possible migraine triggers include:
- Hormonal changes in women, including hormonal medications
- Some foods, such as aged cheeses, salty foods and processed foods
- Likewise Food additives, such as artificial sweeteners and monosodium glutamate
- Alcohol, especially wine, and highly caffeinated beverages
- Stress at work or home can cause migraines
- Bright lights and sun glare, as well as loud sounds
- Missing sleep or getting too much sleep may trigger migraines in some people
- Intense physical exertion
- Changes in weather or barometric pressure
- Some medications
A headache diary—where you record the frequency, duration, and intensity of the headaches—can help pinpoint migraine triggers. You should jot down the symptoms and log what you ate, drank, and did just before the headaches came on. A doctor can help determine any migraine triggers to help you avoid them.
New drugs may help
Doctors have found that small doses of antidepressants or blood pressure medications can help prevent migraines. Also, drugs called triptans—including sumatriptan and naratriptan—seem to ease the symptoms. Advances in therapy are helping many people turn away from the pain so that they can live normal lives again.
Your physician can analyze your symptoms and prescribe the best course of action to take to help alleviate the problem of migraine headaches.
Migraines are intense headaches that last for a long time. It is not sure what causes them, but there seem to be factors such as certain food and lack of sleep that can trigger a migraine. A physician can prescribe some medications that may give relief.
Try to cope with pain instead of dwelling on it
Resources and references
National Headache Foundation - Resources for headache sufferers, along with information on treatment options and support groups.
American Council for Headache Education - Current headache news, information, and discussion forums. You can set up your own online headache diary to help your doctor diagnose your condition.
Migraine Awareness Group - The National Migraine Association offers tips for living with migraines, a discussion of treatments, and a section that debunks common migraine myths.
American College of Physicians Home Medical Guide: Migraine and Other Headaches edited by David R. Goldmann, M.D., and David A. Horowitz, M.D., Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2000, $6.95. A primer on various types of headaches, this book describes causes, symptoms, and remedies.
Questions and comments
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