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Migraine: An Overview

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Migraine  related image Photo: Getty Images

Migraines are very severe headaches that are accompanied by nausea and vomiting and sometimes also by visual disturbance and a dislike of bright light.

They affect around 36 million people in the USA, including children, and they can result in reduced quality of life, disrupted family time and missed education and working days.

There are two types of migraine, migraine with aura and migraine without aura. If you have a migraine with aura you will experience visual disturbances such as flashing lights and blurred vision and other associated neurological symptoms such as numbness or weakness on one side of the body.

These symptoms will begin prior to the headache starting. If you have migraine without aura you will not have these preceding symptoms, although you may feel tired or anxious beforehand.

Main symptoms are:

• Very severe, throbbing headache that gets worse if you try to move
• Pain can be felt on one side of the head, or sometimes both
• Aversion to bright light
• Nausea
• Vomiting

The migraine can continue for hours or even several days. After the migraine is over, you may feel exhausted and weak for a day or two.

What Causes Migraine?

The causes haven’t been absolutely confirmed, but increased blood flow to the vessels of the brain is thought to be implicated. This dilation of vessels causes severe pain. Several things can trigger this process, including hormones, stress and depression, lack of sleep and diet. Certain foods are known to trigger migraine. Coffee, chocolate, cheese and alcohol are common culprits.

How is Migraine Diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose migraine by taking a medical history and asking questions about your symptoms. If there is any doubt as to the cause of your symptoms, you may be offered an MRI scan to rule out more serious causes, such as brain tumor.

He may offer you tablets called triptans which if used during the initial stages of a migraine, will usually abort it before it progresses.

Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can be used to relieve pain during a migraine that has progressed.

Other combination medications can be used such as acetaminophen, codeine and muscle relaxant, to help on a short-term basis with acute headaches, including migraine. If using this medication or any like it, please read the patient information leaflet that comes with the medication, because there are some groups of people who should not take it.

Don’t take any other products that contain acetaminophen at the same time, or you may overdose. Overdosing on acetaminophen is dangerous and can result in severe liver damage and death.

Keeping a food diary to identify any dietary triggers may help. If you notice any recurring food groups that you have eaten prior to your migraines, cut these out.

Make sure you get plenty of sleep. Go to bed early at least a few times a week and do something to relax you, such as a warm bath, yoga or a massage.


The British Medical Association Complete Family Health Guide, First UK Edition 2000, Dorling Kindersley Limited, p. 518-519. ISBN: 0-7513-2722-0.
Migraine Research Foundation, About Migraine. Web. 20 October 2011. http://www.migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine.html

Syndol, Net Doctor. Web. 20 October 2011. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/medicines/100002516.html

Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/. She is author of the book, 'Breast Milk: A Natural Immunisation,' and co-author of an educational resource on disabled parenting.

Reviewed October 20, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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