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Migraines: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

There are certain health conditions that can have a detrimental effect on the quality of your life and migraines is one of them. You never know what can trigger them and they can last up to a day. If you have been suffering from poor quality of life due to migraines, there are a lot of things you can do to manage the condition. Read on to find out everything about migraines and how to prevent them.

What Is A Migraine?

Migraine is a severe type of headache, usually on one side of the head. The pain is intense and throbbing, often accompanied by other symptoms of nausea and weakness. While headaches are infrequent and tend to go away easily, migraines are recurring and tend to last for a longer duration, even days [1] .

However, unlike headaches, migraines are usually caused by a trigger that is easily identifiable by the person suffering from a migraine [2] . Also, migraine attacks have a particular pattern and are not as random as headaches.

Types Of Migraines

Usually, the pain caused due to the migraines may have an effect on the other senses. There may be blurred vision, weak muscle activity or slurred speech. These are known as auras. There are some people who experience migraines without these auras as well.

Migraines are typically classified into the following three types.

1. Migraines with aura [3]

Migraines that usually result in slurred speech and vision are called migraines with auras. These auras serve as a warning sign of an oncoming migraine attack. Some of the symptoms of an aura include, confusing thoughts, strange flights flashing, zigzag lines in the visual area, difficulty speaking, or sudden strange smells. The sense of vision is something that is often affected in people suffering from migraines with auras. They may be unable to see certain things in front of them. People who go through these auras often describe their vision to be affected by a bright light.

2. Migraines without auras [4]

These types of migraines usually do not have any warning signs before having a migraine attack. A huge majority of people as high as 70% to 80% of migraine sufferers experience this type of migraine attacks.

3. Other types

  • Most often than not, migraines are caused by specific triggers.
  • Menstrual migraines are migraines which happen just before the beginning of a menstrual cycle [5] .
  • Abdominal migraines are triggered by abnormal activity in the abdomen of the sufferer. This is most common in children under 14 years of age [6]
  • Chronic migraines can last up to 15 days at a stretch [7] .
  • Hemiplegic migraines can cause severe weakness on one side of the body [8] .

Symptoms Of Migraines

Symptoms of a migraine may differ from person to person. These symptoms can start way before the headache and can last till the migraine attack subsides. Some common symptoms include [9] the following:

  • Moderate to severe pain in one side of the head
  • Nausea
  • Unable to perform any stretch nous physical activity due to pain.
  • Sensitivity towards light and sound
  • Clouded thinking
  • Sweating

Typically a migraine attack is divided into four different phases. Though usually, migraine sufferers go through each of the phases, it may not be necessary. The four phases of migraine are as follows:

Prodrome [10]

You may experience this phase 12 -24 hours before the attack. Typical symptoms of this phase include food cravings, uncontrollable yawning and fluid retention. Some people may also experience mood swings or frequent urination.

Aura [11]

In this phase, you will start experiencing bright lights or zigzag lines. You may also feel like needles piercing in your arms and legs. These symptoms are experienced before the attack in people suffering from migraines with aura.


Usually, a migraine is defined as a severe headache on one side of the head. However, there are people who suffer from migraine without a headache. The symptoms for them includes, sensitivity to light and sound and the constant sensation of vomiting.

Postdome [12]

This is the last stage of the migraine where the pain has subsided but the body feels weak and exhausted.

Causes Of Migraines

There are a lot of things that trigger a migraine attack in people. The most common causes include [2] the following:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Hormonal imbalance or menstruation in women
  • Bright lights or loud noises
  • Strong smells
  • Diet factors such as consuming certain types of foods for example chocolates, citrus fruits or other foods containing additives. Alcohol and caffeine are also known to trigger migraines
  • Environmental factors such as strong winds, smoke or sudden change in temperature.
  • Certain hormonal medications like birth control pills or sleeping pills.
  • Risk Factors Related To Migraine [13]
  • Scientifically, women are almost three times more prone to migraine attacks than men. You are also at higher risk of suffering from migraine attacks if
  • migraines run in your family,
  • you suffer from other medical conditions such as depression, sleep disorders of epilepsy,
  • you have an irregular sleeping pattern which may be due to jet lag from frequent travelling and
  • you are underweight or overweight.
  • Diagnosis Of Migraines
  • Migraines can easily be diagnosed by talking to your health care provider about any of the above-mentioned symptoms [14] . Also, they may check your medical history and enquire about the condition being hereditary.
  • Additionally, your doctor may also perform a neurological exam to find the triggers for your attacks [14] .

Sometimes, a CT scan or an MRI would be required to rule out any major health problems that may be causing the migraines [14] .

Treatment For Migraines

  • Although there is no specific treatment for migraines, there are a lot of ways to relieve the symptoms of migraine. The most important thing is to manage your migraine attacks is to identify the triggers and stay away from them [15] .
  • Once you understand the cause of your attacks, you can alter your lifestyle to eliminate these triggers [15] .
  • If the frequency of your migraine attacks has a negative effect on the quality of your life, your doctor may recommend some painkillers to help manage the condition.
  • Some over the counter medications that help relieve migraine symptoms are naproxen, ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin. These medications can be taken when you start having the symptoms of an attack. The sooner you have the medications the better the effect. However, medications have to be always taken under the prescription of your doctor only.
  • During a migraine attack, lying in a dark room away from sound and light is said to be the best way to relieve the symptoms of migraine. You can also try placing a cold pack on your forehead while keeping yourself hydrated and let the pain pass.
  • Prevention Of Migraine Attacks
  • Migraine attacks can easily be prevented by understanding what is causing them. Additionally, there are certain things you can do to prevent migraine attacks [16] .
  • Indulge in some stress management strategies like relaxation exercises if you lead a stressful life.
  • Women can talk to their doctors about hormone therapy if they experience frequent migraine attacks around the time of their menstruation [16]
  • Obese people may want to lose weight as excess weight is known to be a cause of migraine attacks [16] .
  • Certain supplements like Vitamin B2 and magnesium are known to reduce migraine attacks in people.
  • A change in diet may help relieve symptoms of migraine [16] .
View Article References
  1. [1] Burstein, R., Noseda, R., & Borsook, D. (2015). Migraine: multiple processes, complex pathophysiology.The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience,35(17), 6619–6629.
  2. [2] Park, J. W., Chu, M. K., Kim, J. M., Park, S. G., & Cho, S. J. (2016). Analysis of Trigger Factors in Episodic Migraineurs Using a Smartphone Headache Diary Applications.PloS one,11(2), e0149577.
  3. [3] DeLange, J. M., & Cutrer, F. M. (2014). Our evolving understanding of migraine with aura.Current pain and headache reports,18(10), 453.
  4. [4] Rasmussen, B. K., & Olesen, J. (1992). Migraine with aura and migraine without aura: an epidemiological study.Cephalalgia,12(4), 221-228.
  5. [5] MacGregor, E. A. (2009). Menstrual migraine: therapeutic approaches.Therapeutic advances in neurological disorders,2(5), 327-336.
  6. [6] Mani, J., & Madani, S. (2018). Pediatric abdominal migraine: current perspectives on a lesser known entity.Pediatric health, medicine and therapeutics,9, 47.
  7. [7] Weatherall, M. W. (2015). The diagnosis and treatment of chronic migraine.Therapeutic advances in chronic disease,6(3), 115-123.
  8. [8] Pelzer, N., Stam, A. H., Haan, J., Ferrari, M. D., & Terwindt, G. M. (2013). Familial and sporadic hemiplegic migraine: diagnosis and treatment.Current treatment options in neurology,15(1), 13-27.
  9. [9] Schürks, M., Buring, J. E., & Kurth, T. (2011). Migraine features, associated symptoms and triggers: a principal component analysis in the Women’s Health Study.Cephalalgia,31(7), 861-869.
  10. [10] Buzzi, M. G., Cologno, D., Formisano, R., & Rossi, P. (2005). Prodromes and the early phase of the migraine attack: therapeutic relevance.Functional neurology,20(4), 179-183.
  11. [11] Lauritzen, M. (1994). Pathophysiology of the migraine aura: the spreading depression theory.Brain,117(1), 199-210.
  12. [12] Menkes, D. B. (1992). Triazolam-induced nocturnal bingeing with amnesia.Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry,26(2), 320-321.
  13. [13] May, A., & Schulte, L. H. (2016). Chronic migraine: risk factors, mechanisms and treatment.Nature Reviews Neurology,12(8), 455.
  14. [14] Weatherall, M. W. (2015). The diagnosis and treatment of chronic migraine.Therapeutic advances in chronic disease,6(3), 115-123.
  15. [15] Bigal, M. E., Serrano, D., Reed, M., & Lipton, R. B. (2008). Chronic migraine in the population: burden, diagnosis, and satisfaction with treatment.Neurology,71(8), 559-566.
  16. [16] Moriarty, M., & Mallick-Searle, T. (2016). Diagnosis and treatment for chronic migraine.The Nurse Practitioner,41(6), 18.
Story first published: Saturday, May 11, 2019, 9:00 [IST]
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