A migraine headache is an intensely throbbing headache, often in only one part of the head. It may occur as often as daily or only once or twice a year. It may last for only a couple of hours or for days. However long it lasts, a migraine typically causes severe, even disabling, pain.
Here are some facts about migraines:
- About 10 percent of people worldwide suffer from migraines.
- The World Health Organization lists migraine as one of the top 20 causes of disability worldwide.
- Up to five percent of elementary-school children and about 20 percent of adolescents have migraines.
- Women are more likely to have migraines than men.
Types of Migraines
Migraines broadly fall into two categories:
- Migraines with aura
- Migraines without aura
Auras are visual disturbances that alert you to the onset of a migraine. They may last from 15-30 minutes and include temporary loss of vision, seeing zigzag lines, or flashing lights or colors. Auras occur in about one-third of migraine sufferers.
If you have migraines with auras, you may also experience:
- Burning or prickly sensations
- Muscle weakness on one side of your body
- Irritability, restlessness or depression
- Problems communicating with others
The pain may begin in your forehead or around your eyes. In a migraine without aura, the pain may begin on one or both sides of the head. Usually a migraine gets progressively more painful, and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
The underlying cause of migraines has not been proved, but genetic factors may play a role. Four out of five people with migraines have a family history of it.
What brings on—or triggers—a migraine is better known. If you have migraines, you may recognize some of these common triggers:
- Certain foods including processed foods, aged cheese, and alcoholic beverages, particularly red wine
- Food additives, including monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasoned salt, meat tenderizers, tyramine, sodium nitrate, and phenylalanine
- Loud noises or bright lights
- Strange or strong smells or fumes
- Weather changes
- Changes in altitude
- Stress, anxiety, depression or fatigue
- In women, having a menstrual period, using birth control pills, or other hormonal changes
- Intense physical activity, including sexual activity
- Lack of food or sleep
Although there is no cure for migraines, medications are available that can help to prevent them and help to relieve symptoms.