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what is a migraine

What Is a Migraine Headache? Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Learn about a few of the most common migraine subtypes.

Anyone who has suffered a migraine headache can tell you how much pain they can cause and how quickly it can ruin your day. But what exactly does ‘migraine headache’ mean?

A migraine headache is a painful and sometimes chronic headache that can come on quickly, often leading to severe pain around the temple area on one side of the head, which can also extend to the face, sinuses, jaw and neck.

Migraines can last anywhere from an hour to a few days. Migraine sufferers are often hit with bouts of nausea and/or vomiting as well as sensitivity to light or sound.

Other migraine symptoms that may occur before or during a migraine include:1,2

  • Chills or a fever
  • Fatigue and/or dizziness
  • Changes in appetite (loss of appetite or food cravings)
  • Increased thirst or urination
  • Anxiety or other mood changes
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea (rare)

According to recent statistics, about 12 percent of the U.S. population and roughly 14.7 percent of people worldwide suffer from migraines, usually between the ages of 15 (adolescence) and 55 (menopause).3,4In addition, migraines have a tendency to run in families.3

Women are three times more likely to suffer migraines than men, which is largely driven by hormonal changes.4 More than half of migraines occur right before, during, or after a woman has her period. Why this happens is still unclear, but experts think that the drop in the hormone estrogen just before your period may trigger a menstrual migraine.5 Stress is another common migraine trigger.

It is important to know what type of migraine you have because management can vary for different migraine types. Here are a few of the most common types of migraine:

Migraines Without Aura6

Migraines without aura are the most common type of migraines, experienced by 70 to 90 percent of migraines sufferers. They begin with pain and no advance warning.

Episodes of migraine without aura can last between 4 and up to 72 hours. The headache is usually felt on one side of the head with a throbbing or pulsating pain which can affect daily life.

Woman holding head
Couple smiles while cooking in a kitchen

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Migraines With Aura7

Some migraine sufferers will notice visual warning signs including dizziness, blind spots in one or both eyes, prickling skin sensations, zigzag patterns in your vision or flashing lights, 10-15 minutes just before their headache strikes. This is what’s called “migraine with aura,” which account for about 10 to 30 percent of all migraine sufferers.

Retinal Migraines8

Retinal migraines – or ocular migraines – are much rarer than migraines with aura. They are called retinal migraines because the common symptom is vision loss or blindness in one eye for as long as an hour either leading up to, or during, the headache. Proper diagnosis and treatment of retinal migraines is imperative. See your doctor right away if you think you might be experiencing one.

What is Chronic Migraine?9

If you experience more than 15 headaches per month over a three-month period, you may be suffering from chronic migraine. These migraines can be completely debilitating and are different to those of episodic migraines, which usually last for just a few hours. If you think you may be suffering with chronic migraine, it’s a good idea to keep a migraine diary so you and your doctor can track how many days per month you experience your symptoms.

Want to learn more about migraines? Discover the most common causes of migraines so you know what to look out for, treatment options available and how to prevent migraines in future.

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