We know: All About Migraine Headaches

What is a migraine headache?

A migraine headache is characterized by intense pulsing or throbbing pain in one area of the head. It is often accompanied by extreme sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting.

What causes migraine headaches?

For many years, scientists believed that migraines were linked to the dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the head. Investigators now believe that migraine is caused by inherited abnormalities in genes that control the activities of certain cell populations in the brain.

Who gets migraine headaches?

Migraines are three times more common in women than in men.

What are some of the initial symptoms and triggers of a migraine headache?

Some individuals can predict the onset of a migraine because it is preceded by an "aura," visual disturbances that appear as flashing lights, zig-zag lines or a temporary loss of vision. People with migraine tend to have recurring attacks triggered by a lack of food or sleep, exposure to light, or hormonal irregularities (only in women). Anxiety, stress, or relaxation after stress can also be triggers.

How are migraine headaches treated?

Drugs provide an important element of migraine treatment. There are two ways to approach the treatment of migraine headache with drugs: prevent the attacks, or relieve the symptoms during the attacks.

What kind of drugs are currently used in treatment?

Many people with migraine use medications originally developed for epilepsy and depression to prevent future attacks, and treating attacks when they happen with drugs called triptans that relieve pain and restore function.

Hormone therapy may help some women whose migraines seem to be linked to their menstrual cycle.

What else can be done to help prevent or relieve migraine headaches?

Stress management strategies, such as exercise, relaxation, biofeedback, and other therapies designed to help limit discomfort, may also reduce the occurrence and severity of migraine attacks.

We asked the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke for help in providing this information.

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