Migraine Headaches: At a Glance
When a migraine headache occurs, pulsating or throbbing pain is usually felt on one side of the head, but it may occur on both sides. Physical activity, bright light, loud noises, and certain odors may make the headache worse. The pain is frequently accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sounds, light, and/or odors.
Migraines are 3 times more common among women. In the United States, about 18% of women and 6% of men have a migraine at some time each year.
Migraines may become chronic. That is, they occur 15 or more days a month. Chronic migraines often develop in people who overuse drugs to treat migraines.
For a full discussion, see Migraines.
See also Migraine Sufferers.
Migraines occur in people whose nervous system is more sensitive than that of other people. In these people, nerve cells in the brain are easily stimulated, producing electrical activity. As electrical activity spreads over the brain, various functions, such as vision, sensation, balance, muscle coordination, and speech, are temporarily disturbed. These disturbances cause the symptoms that occur before the headache (called the aura). About 25% of people experience an aura.
The headache occurs when the 5th cranial (trigeminal) nerve is stimulated. This nerve sends impulses (including pain impulses) from the eyes, scalp, forehead, upper eyelids, mouth, and jaw to the brain. When stimulated, the nerve may release substances that cause painful inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain and tissues covering the brain. The inflammation accounts for the throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Possible Triggers for Migraines
Migraines cannot be cured, but they can be controlled:
Keep a headache diary: Write down the number and timing of attacks, possible triggers, and response to treatment. With this information, triggers may be identified and eliminated or avoided when possible.
Learn to relax and manage stress.
Take drugs as prescribed by your doctor.