What is a Migraine Headache?

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 is a migraine?

A migraine headache is a painful and sometimes chronic headache that comes 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 72 hours. Migraine sufferers often are hit with bouts of nausea and/or vomiting during a migraine, and a sensitivity to light or loud noise is common. Other migraine symptoms that may occur include chills, increased urination, fatigue, loss of appetite, numbness, tingling, or weakness, problems concentrating, and sweating.

According to recent statistics, about 12 percent of the U.S. population and 10 percent of people worldwide suffer from migraines, usually when they are between the ages of 25 and 55. In addition, migraines have a tendency to run in families.

Women are three times more likely to suffer migraines than men, especially during their reproductive years. 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 hormones estrogen and progesterone just before your period may trigger a menstrual migraine.1 Stress is another common migraine trigger.

“During that time, women are often juggling family obligations, work pressures and social responsibilities,” Dr. Keri Peterson explains about women and migraines in a video for Excedrin. “Since stress is often a trigger for migraines, it’s no wonder they’re prevalent in women of child-bearing age.”

It is important to know what type of migraine you have because management can vary for different headache types. Here are a few of the most common migraine subtypes: 2

Migraines Without Aura

These are the most common type of migraines. They begin with pain and no advance warning.

Migraines With Aura

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 20 percent of all migraine sufferers. 3

Retinal Migraines

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



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