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What is Migraine?

Migraines are characterized by severe head pain often accompanied by other symptoms, which can be disabling in nature. These migraine symptoms include but are not limited to: nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness or tingling, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines often tend to run in families, and recent research has identified certain genetic components. Migraines can affect people of all ages and often go undiagnosed in young children.

The duration of a migraine attack can vary, however most migraine attacks will last at least four hours. If you are experiencing symptoms for more than three days, you should seek help from your physician or visit the Emergency Room.

Migraine attacks typically go through four phases, although it is possible to have attacks which skip one or more phases. In fact, it is even possible to have a migraine attack without the “headache” phase. This type of migraine is referred to as acephalgic migraine also known as “silent” migraine.

What is the definition of a migraine?

There is still some debate regarding the classification of migraine. Some experts refer to migraine a neurological disease, while others prefer to call it a neurological condition or disorder.

Migraine attacks are classified as primary headaches because pain is not caused by another disorder or disease. Migraine attacks are often accompanied by symptoms other than head pain, including nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine symptoms and severity can vary tremendously from person to person.

What is the difference between migraine and a headache?

Migraine is not just a headache, and attacks can include a variety of debilitating neurological symptoms. Head pain associated with migraine is typically throbbing in nature and located on one side of the head. It is common to experience nausea and vomiting during migraine attacks, in addition to a wide variety of other symptoms.

What are the different types of migraine?

There are several types of migraine recognized by the International Headache Society. The most common migraine types in adults are migraine with aura and migraine without aura. Menstrual migraine, often referred to as hormonal migraine, is the most common type of of migraine without aura. Hemiplegic migraine and basilar migraine are the most common types of migraine with aura. Retinal migraine, which is sometimes referred to as ocular migraine, is another migraine type with migraine symptoms which include changes in vision and blurred vision.

Infants, toddlers, children, and teens often suffer from abdominal migraine, which is characterized by stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

There are many other types of headaches which are not categorized as migraines, including but not limited to cluster headaches, tension-type headaches, and sinus headaches.

What is a migraine specialist?

Some physicians specialize in the treatment of migraine. Although a majority of migraine and headache specialists are neurologists, specialists may come from a variety of backgrounds. A specialist may have additional training in the field, including research experience and specific certifications in headache medicine.

Read this article to understand how are migraine specialist different?

How do you diagnose migraines?

Migraine is considered a diagnosis of exclusion. That means in order to diagnose migraine, other possible causes of the symptoms must be ruled out or excluded. Therefore many people ask, can you diagnose migraines with certainty?

Doctors have a range of criteria and tests for diagnosing migraine. Migraine diagnosis typically centers around a description of the different migraine symptoms, how long they occur and how long they last. That’s why it’s key to keep a record of your symptoms — including their intensity and frequency — in your migraine journal. This will help your migraine specialist determine what tests are necessary to rule out other causes for your symptoms.

Some tests that can be conducted include MRIs, Magnetic resonance imaging , CT/Cat SCANs, Computed Tomography, Blood Chemistry and Urine analysis, Sinus X-Ray, EEG, Eye Exam, Spinal Tap or lumbar puncture.

What are common migraine symptoms?

Migraine symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. The severity of migraine symptoms can also vary tremendously. Head pain, which is typically throbbing in nature and occurs on one side of the head, is the most common migraine symptom. A majority of people with migraine will also experience nausea, sensitivity to light, and sensitivity to sound. Many people experience visual disturbances, dizziness, fatigue, numbness or tingling during their attacks. Some symptoms can seem unrelated to migraines, so keeping a journal can help identify migraine-related symptoms. You read more details in this migraine symptoms overview or in this interactive migraine symptom checker.

Migraines often progress through four stages, with symptoms varying from stage to stage. Possible symptoms during prodrome include aphasia (difficulty speaking), constipation or diarrhea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, hyperactivity, food cravings, increased urination, mood changes, and neck pain. You can read this article on migraine prodrome for more information.

The aura phase of migraine can include a variety of symptoms including allodynia (hypersensitivity to touch/feel), aphasia (difficultly with language), auditory or olfactory hallucinations (hearing or smelling things that are not there), one-sided paralysis, dizziness, vertigo, and parasthesia. Learn more about migraine aura here: the migraine aura phase & migraine aura symptoms.

People are usually most familiar with the headache phase of migraine. Head pain during a migraine attack is frequently unilateral, meaning it occurs on one side of the head. Pain is typically pulsating or throbbing in nature, made worse by physical activity, and lasts for four or more hours. Other symptoms can also accompany the headache phase of migraine .

Postdrome, the last phase of migraine, can lead to feeling “hungover” including symptoms such as fatigue, changes in mood, and inability to concentration. You can read this postdrome symptoms article for more information.

What are common migraine triggers?

Like symptoms, migraine triggers can also vary from person to person. The most well known migraine triggers relate to food and drink, including MSG, asparatame, alcohol, certain cheeses, chocolate, and citrus fruit. Other common food triggers include certain food dyes, nitrates, sulfites, dairy products, and tyramine.

Some people find that caffeine is a migraine trigger while others can actually find relief from small amounts of caffeine during an attack . Because food triggers can be difficult to identify, a migraine elimination diet can help you find some potential triggers.

Food and drink are not the only factors to consider when identifying migraine triggers. Bright lights or flickering lights can often act as a migraine trigger, including those that may be found in office buildings or old computer monitors. Crying, tension-type headaches, and dehydration are also commonly overlooked migraine triggers.

Some triggers are difficult to avoid, including changes in weather and fluctuations in hormone levels. Others, such as sleep triggers and missed meals, can be well managed by keeping a routine schedule.

What is a migraine aura?

Migraine aura is the second phase of a migraine attack, which is accompanied by distinct symptoms including visual disturbances, loss of vision, dizziness, confusion, aphasia, allodynia, and weakness. Read more about aura symptoms here.

What are common migraine treatment options?

Unfortunately, there is no “one size fits all” approach to migraine treatment as what works for one person may not work for another. However, there are over a hundred potential treatment options for migraine, including natural remedies, over the counter medications, prescription medications, complementary/alternative therapies, and combination treatments. It’s impossible to have tried everything!

Migraine treatments are typically categorized as preventive therapies, abortive treatments, and rescue medications.

Here are 3 helpful articles:

Where can I find help and support living with migraines?

Unfortunately, migraine stigma does exist, and people with migraine can often feel isolated. The unpredictability of attacks can make it difficult to plan or participate in social functions, family events or fulfill work responsibilities. Migraine can impact the ability to maintain a career, relationships, and overall quality of life.

It is important that migraine sufferers see a migraine specialist whenever possible. Additionally support groups, including online migraine communities and associations which are here to provide helpful tips and support.