Claudia Chaves, MD, is board-certified in cerebrovascular disease and neurology with a subspecialty certification in vascular neurology. She is an associate professor of neurology at Tufts Medical School and medical director of the Lahey Clinic Multiple Sclerosis Center in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Migraines, commonly referred to as migraine headaches, are a neurological condition most commonly affecting women, but they can affect men and children as well.
Most people who experience migraines have them one to four times per month, but these headaches may occur more frequently. There are a number of migraine triggers, which vary from person to person. It can be helpful to track your symptoms in order to identify and avoid situations that may bring on a migraine.
Diagnosis is based primarily on clinical signs and symptoms, and if there is any uncertainty, you may need to have diagnostic tests to confirm your condition. While there are many different medication treatments available for migraines, prevention is really the cornerstone of migraine management.
To stop a migraine in its tracks, over-the-counter remedies such as NSAIDs and acetaminophen can be helpful, as well as prescription treatments like triptans or oral steroids. Complementary and alternative medicine treatments can be effective for many, too—ginger, Tiger Balm, and lavender oil all have good research behind their usage for migraines.
Migraines may last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours if untreated. It can be difficult to predict the duration of a migraine, but tracking the stages you go through can be helpful.
Migraine stages include:
You may not experience every stage with every migraine, but keeping a migraine journal can help you identify patterns.
Getting enough sleep, avoiding triggering foods and smells, regulating caffeine intake, managing stress, and doing yoga/meditation are effective migraine prevention measures for many. Taking magnesium and trying acupuncture have also been shown to help. If you're experiencing five or more migraines per month, your doctor may suggest a daily prescription medication to help with prevention.
A migraine may feel like a headache all over your head, in the front or back of your head, or on one or both sides of your head. Migraine headaches are often described as throbbing, pounding, and persistent. You may have other symptoms, too, like neck/shoulder pain, light sensitivity, nausea, and dizziness.
A temporary (often lasting less than an hour) neurological disturbance that takes place before a migraine headache comes on. At least 30% of people with migraines experience auras. Symptoms may include seeing sparks or flashes, loss of vision, speech difficulty, or limb tingling.
A pain affecting the head. While some think of migraines as just bad headaches, they can be incredibly debilitating.
Any condition affecting the central (brain, spinal cord) or peripheral nervous system. Migraine is considered a neurological condition, as it affects the brain. While it's not a threat to your long-term health, migraines can impact your daily life.
Prodrome is considered the first stage of a migraine, which may present symptoms (known as premonitory symptoms) up to three days before a migraine reaches its peak. Taking medication at the onset of these symptoms, which may include fatigue, nausea, mood changes, or food cravings, among others, can help reduce the severity of your migraine.
A sleep disorder marked by shallow breathing during sleep or periodic instances where you stop breathing for a few seconds while you sleep. Headaches and snoring are common symptoms. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for chronic or more severe migraines.
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