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Home > Health Library > 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 aren't able to do your usual activities. But migraines can be treated. And even though they make you feel bad, they don't cause long-term damage.
Experts aren't sure what causes migraines. They believe that changes in the activity of brain cells may lead to inflammation in certain nerves, which causes pain. Migraines often run in families, so genetics may play a role for some people. Some things, called triggers, can cause a migraine to start.
Triggers are things that can cause a migraine headache to start. They include changes in daily routine, foods, hormones, and medicines. They can also include lights, odors, changes in the weather, or other things in the environment. Strong emotions, such as depression or anxiety, can also be triggers. Triggers are different for each person.
The most common symptom of a migraine headache is a throbbing pain on one side of your head or behind an eye. Some people have an aura shortly before or during the headache. During an aura, you may see spots or flashing lights. Other symptoms of migraine include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light.
To diagnose migraines, your doctor will ask about your personal and family history and examine you. Your doctor will ask how many headaches you have, how long they last, and what symptoms you have. You may get tests if your doctor thinks your symptoms may be caused by another disease.
You can't cure migraines, but medicines and other treatments may help you feel better. Avoiding triggers can help too. You may be able to treat your headaches with over-the-counter pain medicine. If that doesn't work, your doctor can prescribe stronger medicine. You may also try medicine to help prevent migraines.
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You may be more likely to get migraines if you have a family history of migraines. Females are more likely to get migraines than males. You may also be at higher risk if you are a teenager or young adult. Migraines often start during these years but may peak in your 30s.
You can do things to help prevent migraine headaches. Try these tips.
It can help you find out what triggers your migraines.
Triggers include changes in daily routine, foods, hormones, medicines, lights, odors, or other things in the environment. Triggers add up. So the fewer triggers you have at one time, the better your chance of preventing a migraine.
But be careful to not push yourself too hard. It may trigger a headache.
Talk to your doctor if you are taking medicine more than 2 days a week to stop a headache. Taking medicine too often may cause medicine-overuse headaches.
Migraines are most common during or right after stressful times. Try finding ways to reduce stress like practicing mindfulness or deep breathing exercises.
Some people find that magnesium and riboflavin (vitamin B2) help prevent migraine headaches.
Some people find that these can help reduce how many migraines they have or how bad the migraines are.
The most common symptom of a migraine headache is a throbbing pain on one side of your head. You also may have other symptoms before, during, and after a migraine.
A day or two before a migraine starts, you may feel:
Some people have an aura. It may happen shortly before or during the headache. Some people may have an aura without the headache. During an aura, you may see spots, wavy lines, or flashing lights.
When the headache starts, symptoms can include:
You may have muscle aches or feel very tired for up to a day after your migraine ends.
Migraines sometimes start with an aura of spots, wavy lines, or flashing lights about 30 minutes before the headache begins. Without treatment, a migraine headache can last from 4 to 72 hours. Muscle aches or feeling very tired may last for up to a day after the migraine ends.
Call 911 or other emergency services if:
Call your doctor now or go to the emergency room if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. Trying it may be fine if you have recently been diagnosed with migraines and over-the-counter medicines are controlling your pain.
To diagnose migraines, your doctor will do an exam and ask questions about your personal and family history. Your doctor will ask how many headaches you have, how long they last, and what symptoms you have. There are no tests that can diagnose migraines.
Migraines can be hard to diagnose. Their symptoms are like those of other types of headaches. For example, many people have been diagnosed with sinus headaches when they actually have migraines.
It's likely that you are having migraine headaches if they happen often and interfere with your daily life.
Your doctor will decide if you need to have tests to find out if your headaches are caused by another health problem. You may have an MRI, a CT scan, or a lumbar puncture.
You can't cure migraines. But you can use medicines and other treatments to feel better. Finding and avoiding the things that trigger your headaches may also help.
The goal of treatment is to reduce how often you get migraines and to stop the headaches with the fewest drug side effects.
For mild to moderate migraines, you may first want to try over-the-counter pain relievers. They have fewer side effects. And they cost less than other medicines. But if they don't help, you may need prescription medicines.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines to stop or to prevent a migraine.
If treatment doesn't help your migraines, you and your doctor may make changes. You may try different medicines, a new mix of medicines, or different doses. Sometimes, treatments that don't use medicines are tried. It may take some time to find the right treatment to help you.
There are some things you can do when you feel a migraine starting.
Don't wait for the migraine to get worse. Take your medicine exactly as your doctor told you to. Keep your medicine with you at all times so you are ready when a headache starts.
Close your eyes, and try to relax or go to sleep. Don't watch TV or read.
Leave it there for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the cold pack and your skin.
Have someone gently massage your neck and shoulders.
Talk to your doctor if you are taking medicine more than 2 days a week to stop a headache. Taking too much pain medicine can lead to more headaches. These are called medicine-overuse headaches.
Two kinds of medicines are used to treat migraines. There are medicines to stop a migraine and medicines to prevent migraines.
Finding the right mix of medicines for you may take some time. So work closely with your doctor to try different medicines and doses. In most cases, your doctor will first prescribe a medicine that causes the fewest side effects. Medicines may be prescribed based on your type of migraine.
Medicines can help you feel better. But they can also be dangerous, especially if you don't take them the right way. Be safe with medicines. Take them as prescribed by your doctor. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
These are sometimes called abortive medicines. They may be over-the-counter or prescription medicines. If you take the medicine at the first sign you're getting a migraine, you may stop the headache before it starts.
If your migraines are mild to moderate, you may need only an over-the-counter medicine to stop the pain. Most doctors recommend that you try these medicines first. That's because they may have fewer side effects than prescription medicines. But if they don't stop your headaches, your doctor may prescribe other medicine.
Your doctor may suggest that you take a mix of medicines to stop a headache. For example, you may take acetaminophen or naproxen along with a prescription medicine, such as a triptan.
Medicines used to stop a migraine include:
Medicines such as ubrogepant may be tried if you can't take other medicines or the medicines did not work.
If you have nausea or vomiting during migraine attacks, your doctor also may prescribe medicine to help with these symptoms.
These medicines are often called preventive medicines. You get most of them with a prescription, but some over-the-counter herbs and supplements may be tried too. You take these every day or whenever your doctor tells you to.
Medicines used to prevent migraines include:
You may want to try medicine to prevent a headache if:
Current as of:
December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: December 13, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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