The main symptom of a migraine is a throbbing headache on one side of your head. You also may feel sick to your stomach and vomit. Activity, light, noise, or odors may make the migraine worse.
What are migraine headaches?
Migraines are painful, throbbing headaches that last from 4 to 72 hours. When you have a migraine, it may be so painful that you are not able to do your usual activities. But even though migraines make you feel bad, they don’t cause long-term damage.
Migraines are a health problem that can be treated. Talk to your doctor about your migraines.
What causes migraines?
Experts are not sure what causes migraines.
Migraines run in families, but it is not clear why some people get migraines and others don’t.
Some things can cause a migraine to start. These are called triggers. Your triggers may be different from someone else’s.
Some common triggers include:
- Not eating
- Poor sleep habits
- A change from your normal routine
- Red wine
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Strong odors
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of a migraine is a throbbing headache on one side of your head. You also may feel sick to your stomach and vomit. Activity, light, noise, or odors may make the migraine worse. The pain may move from one side of your head to the other, or you may feel it on both sides at the same time. Different people have different symptoms.
Symptoms before the migraine begins
- A day or two before a migraine starts, you may feel:
- Depressed or cranky
- Very happy, very awake, or full of energy
- Restless or nervous
- Very sleepy
- Thirsty or hungry, or you may crave certain foods, or you may not feel like eating
Some people have an aura before the migraine begins. When you have an aura, you may first see spots, wavy lines, or flashing lights. Your hands, arms, or face may tingle or feel numb. The aura usually starts about 30 minutes before the headache. But most people don’t have auras.
Symptoms of an aura
About 1 out of 5 people has a warning sign of a migraine called an aura. It usually starts about 30 minutes before the headache starts. During an aura, you may:
- See spots, wavy lines, or flashing lights
- Have numbness or a “pins-and-needles” feeling in your hands, arms, or face
Symptoms when the headache starts
- Symptoms can include:
- Throbbing pain on one side of the head, but you can have pain on both sides
- Pain behind one of your eyes
- Moderate to very bad pain. The pain may be so bad that you can’t do any of your usual activities.
- Pain that gets worse with routine physical activity
- Nausea, vomiting, or both
- Pain that gets worse when you’re around light, noise, and sometimes smells
Less common symptoms include:
- Problems speaking
- Tingling in your face, arms, and shoulders
- Short-term weakness on one side of your body
If you have these less-common symptoms and have not had them before, call your doctor right away so that he or she can make sure you aren’t having a transient ischemic attack (TIA), stroke, or other serious problem. Without treatment, a migraine headache can last from 4 to 72 hours.
Symptoms after the headache
After the headache stops, you may have muscle aches or feel very tired. These symptoms may last up to a day after your migraine ends.
Types of migraines and their symptoms
You may have one or more types of migraine headache. Each type has its own features. For example, some people get migraines with an aura. Some get them without an aura. Some women get menstrual migraines, which happen before, during, or shortly after their menstrual period.
It can be hard to tell the difference between a migraine and another type of headache, such as a tension or sinus headache. You may think that you have sinus headaches. But it’s more likely that they are migraine headaches if they happen often and interfere with your daily life.
Migraines can occur along with many other health problems, such as asthma or depression. More serious conditions, such as tumors or infections, can also cause migraine symptoms. But most headaches are not caused by serious health issues.
How are migraines diagnosed?
A doctor can usually tell if you have a migraine by asking about your symptoms and examining you. You probably will not need lab tests, but your doctor may order some if he or she thinks your symptoms are caused by another disease.
How are they treated?
You can’t cure migraines. But medicines and other treatments may help you feel better and limit how often you get migraines.
At first, your doctor may want you to try an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Brand names include Tylenol, Bayer, Advil, and Aleve. Some over-the-counter medicines (for example, Excedrin) combine acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. If these medicines don’t work, your doctor can prescribe stronger medicine to stop the migraine. Your doctor also may prescribe medicine to prevent migraines.
You may not be able to use some medicines if you are pregnant or have other health problems, such as heart problems.
If the first medicine doesn’t work, ask your doctor if you can try something else. It may take time to find what works best for you.
Some people also use other kinds of treatments, such as acupuncture. These may help reduce the pain or the number of migraines you have.
When you feel a migraine coming on:
- Stop what you are doing, and take your medicine. Don’t wait for the migraine to get worse. Take your medicine exactly as your doctor told you to.
- Rest in a quiet, dark room. Close your eyes, and try to relax or go to sleep. Don’t watch TV or read. Put a cold pack or cool cloth on the painful area.
Be careful when you use your migraine medicines. Taking them too often can cause you to get another headache when you stop taking the medicine. This is called a rebound headache. If you are taking headache medicine more than 2 days a week, or if you get more than 3 headaches a month, talk to your doctor.
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