Migraine Basics

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: October 2020 | Last updated: September 2023

One billion people have migraine, making it one of the most common health conditions worldwide. It is the third most common health disorder and reason for disability.1

This painful condition comes in 2 basic types: Migraine without aura and migraine with aura. About 3 out of 4 people have migraine without aura, making it much more common. An attack can last from 4 hours to 3 days if left untreated. Migraine affects women much more than men, and it often runs in families.2-4

What causes migraine?

Doctors know that migraine often runs in families. This means that the condition may be caused by genetics. These genes may make the person’s brain more likely to react to things in their life that trigger an attack. Common triggers include:2-6

Symptoms of migraine

The most common symptoms of migraine include:2,4

With a headache, the head pain is usually felt on both sides of the head and is more often a dull ache than throbbing. Nausea and vomiting are unusual in headache. Most people with a headache can continue normal activities, though it might be unpleasant. Any movement often makes migraine pain worse.2-4

Migraine phases

There are 4 phases in a migraine attack:2

  • Prodrome
  • Aura
  • Head pain
  • Postdrome

People who have migraine without aura skip from phase 1, the prodrome phase, directly to phase 3, the head pain phase.

Diagnosing migraine

Migraine is usually diagnosed with a physical exam and talking through a person’s medical history. Imaging tests that scan the brain and neck are not necessary most of the time. Keeping track of migraine symptoms in a diary can help your doctor diagnose and treat your migraines.2-4

Treating migraine without aura

Most migraines can be treated with a combination of medicine and lifestyle changes. The treatments most often recommended include:5

  • Preventive drugs that help reduce how often you have migraines and how severe the attacks are
  • Abortive drugs are taken at the beginning of an attack to try and reduce its severity
  • Rescue drugs that are taken if the abortive drugs do not work
  • Non-drug therapies to lower stress, such as exercise, biofeedback, and cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Avoiding as many triggers as possible, such as certain foods and drinks, getting dehydrated, or getting too little or too much sleep
  • Taking care of other health conditions that can aggravate migraines, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, sleep apnea, and obesity

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