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Migraines — A Basic Overview

Migraines are an uncomfortable problem that may compromise with your daily life and activities.  They usually require patients to get treatment from their physician.  Migraines are a recurrent pounding headache, commonly in one portion of the head, often accompanied by symptoms like throwing up, nausea, and hypersensitivity to sound and light. Often these experiences involve a phase called aura. An aura usually involves bothersome vision disturbances (splotches, flashes, zigzags, colored lights or even a blind spot).

Migraines — A Basic OverviewThere are millions of people who suffer from migraines and headaches in the United States and worldwide.  Migraines account for about 37% of all headaches.

People who experience migraines might have severe pain that interferes with their ability to participate in activities. Sometimes when a migraine hits, people try to find a quiet, dark room. The pain from migraines is not caused by another health issue like a brain tumor or a head injury. Migraines may promote pain on just one side of the head or they may cause pain all over.

How Long Does a Migraine Last?

Migraines last for at least four hours for most people. However, the most intense headaches can go on for days. People usually suffer some symptoms both before and after the attack thereby extending the length of the entire episode.

What causes migraines?

Migraines — A Basic OverviewWomen are more likely to experience migraines than men are. Migraine headaches also have a hereditary, or genetic, component and run in families. Familial Hemiplegic Migraine (FHM) is a rare genetic type of migraine. Scientists have been able to isolate the genetic deficiency however, no cure is known at this time.

Migraines are extremely complicated.  People have different triggers and different symptoms. Many people experience an aura, which usually results in temporary vision distortion. People experiencing an aura might see zig zags or spots that are bright. Currently an exact reason for migraines is not known. However,  brain scans display that migraines seem to possibly be caused by “hyperactivity” in sections of the brain.

What are the symptoms of a migraine?

There are a great many number of symptoms of migraines which makes them sometimes tricky to diagnose for the first time. The American Migraine Study II from 1999 reports the most common symptoms, by percentage, as:

  • Throbbing, pulsating pain – 85 percent
  • Light sensitivity – 80 percent
  • Sound sensitivity – 76 percent
  • Nausea – 73 percent
  • Pain on one side – 59 percent
  • Migraines — A Basic OverviewVision changes, blurred vision – 44 percent
  • Aura – 36 percent
  • Vomiting – 29 percent

However, other symptoms that were not noted in the study also include:

  • Hypersensitivity to smells
  • A tight neck
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Vision changes and disturbances including cloudiness
  • Lack of strength

Diagnosing migraines

A migraine diagnosis is tricky.  It usually occurs when you have multiple symptoms and all other options including disorders and causes have crossed off the list. Keeping a diary of your symptoms may be helpful in diagnosing migraines.  Make sure to record time of day, how long they last, and anything you have eaten or done that day.  After keeping a diary for a while a pattern may emerge.

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*The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the Editor. Results may vary from person to person and cannot be guaranteed.

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