Migraine Basics

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Migraine Definition

Migraine is a genetic neurological disease, characterized by episodes often called Migraine attacks. They are quite different from regular headaches which are non-migrainous.

There are about 100 million people with headaches in the U.S.; about 37 million of these people have migraines. The World Health Organization suggests that 18 percent of women and 7 percent of men in the U.S. suffer from migraines.

Migraines are called primary headaches because the pain isn’t caused by another disorder or disease such as a brain tumor or head injury. Some cause pain on just the right side or left side of the head, others result in pain all over. Migraine sufferers may have moderate or severe pain and usually can’t participate in normal activities because of the pain. Often when a migraine strikes, people try to find a quiet, dark room.

How long do migraines last?

Many people experience migraines lasting for at least four hours or may last for days. The range of time someone is affected by an attack is actually longer than the migraine itself, as there is a pre-monitory, or build-up phase, and a post-drome that can last one to two days.


What causes migraines?

Different people have different triggers and different symptoms. Some people experience aura, which can cause changes in vision. Sufferers have reported seeing flashes or bright spots. Although an exact cause is unknown, brain scans show that migraines may be due to “hyperactivity” in parts of the brain. Actually, a migraineur’s brain is biochemically different than that the brain of a person without this disorder.

Migraines in women are more common than in men. Susceptibility to they tends to run in families.There is one rare genetically proven migraine syndrome, Familial Hemiplegic Migraine (FHM) where a known genetic deficiency in one protein is present.

How do you diagnose migraines?

The diagnosis usually happens if people have a combination of symptoms and doctors have ruled out other disorders. The International Headache Society breaks migraines into two categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. Aura causes sufferers to see spots, lights or blurry lines before pain strikes, among other symptoms. To diagnose a migraine without aura, the society says at least two of the following symptoms must be present: nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound or sensitivity to smell.

What are the symptoms of a migraine

There are a large number of symptoms, the most common are:

(Note: These figures are from the American Migraine Study II of almost 4,000 sufferers in 1999.)

Other symptoms include:

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