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12 Things You Need to Know About Migraine Headaches

A comprehensive guide to migraines and how to stop them.

A comprehensive guide to migraines and how to stop them.

Unpredictable and Debilitating

A migraine can happen at any time. You're sitting in your office, writing notes for the morning appointment, when you slowly start to see white, sharp lights flickering in your periphery. The left side of your face goes numb and then the same with your hands. Your head unexpectedly seems enlarged to three times its size. You realize that you're on the verge of getting your next throbbing migraine headache. Several hours later, your meeting is going on without you, and you're locked in the washroom, bracing yourself while experiencing a skull-crushing pain and dizziness. You feel helpless and can only see out of one eye. It starts to feel like your head is placed in a vice. The next morning, a co-worker takes a jab at you for missing work for a simple "headache."

Headache? Hardly. Migraines are a disabling condition that causes problems for 24 million Americans (18% of women and 6% of men) and continues to be highly underdiagnosed. They are not like your normal stress or sinus headaches. Migraines can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days and, in a number of reported cases, can stretch out for months—perhaps even years.

Do you suffer from migraines? Learn a quick cure. In this article, the following topics will be covered:

  1. Migraine Symptoms
  2. Acute Treatments
  3. Alternative Therapies
  4. Ways to Prevent Migraines
  5. Supplements and Herbal Remedies
  6. Stages of a Migraine
  7. What Causes Migraines?
  8. Common Migraine Triggers
  9. Types of Migraines
  10. Are Migraines and Headaches the Same?
  11. Diagnosis
  12. Video guide on how to manage them

1. Migraine Symptoms

  • Reduced vision
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Stroke-like conditions such as numbness to portions of the body.
  • Migraine headaches normally are concentrated on one side of the skull, yet for a few, they can occur in both. There have been many people who report that the pain jumps from one side of the head to the other.
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen, or a combination of both, can be effective in the early stages of a migraine.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen, or a combination of both, can be effective in the early stages of a migraine.

How to Stop and/or Prevent Migraines

There are two methods to treat a migraine:

  1. Acute treatments: for isolated cases, immediately after symptoms begin
  2. Preventative treatment: for recurring cases, to prevent future occurrences

2. Acute treatments

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS):

These medicines—which include ibuprofen and aspirin—can be effective in the early stages of a migraine, before any headaches begin. They also work well for headaches that are not yet extremely painful. Some recent studies show that a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine can be effective for migraines. A few aspirin brands, including Excedrin, have started developing this combination in their migraine medicines.


Triptans are serotonin receptor agonists, meaning they mimic the action of serotonin. Some migraine sufferers call triptans "wonder drugs." Sumatriptan (Imitrex) is generally taken in pill form, or alternatively as a nasal sprayer, which acts faster and is effective for those experiencing dizziness and nausea. For those who suffer from severe migraines with vomiting and who end up in the hospital, the physician may offer you an Imitrex injection. If you buy your own Imitrex injector, you will be able to provide yourself with the same shot without the extra steps (and additional time) needed for scheduling a doctor's visit. Nasal and subcutaneous procedures enter the bloodstream faster and help reduce pain more quickly.

Gentle yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can help reduce migraines by promoting regular blood flow.

Gentle yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises can help reduce migraines by promoting regular blood flow.

3. Alternative Therapies

Many people who suffer from migraine headaches also find relief in alternative, non-medicinal treatments. However, these alternatives haven't been studied well enough to confirm or disprove their efficacy. Regardless, many people find relief from these treatments and commonly recommend them.

Below are a few of the widely-used alternative therapies for migraines:

Exercise, Massages, and Breathing and Relaxation Training

Making a routine of these activities may possibly help because they all help promote regular blood flow and reduce stress. These results can all help in protecting against some identified migraine causes.


Yoga applies stretching, various postures, and breathing control to release tension, increase flexibility, and improve blood flow. It promotes calmness and is commonly used in tandem with deep breathing exercises.


Biofeedback is a technique intended to help you gain control of autonomic functions, such as your pulse rate, muscle tension, blood circulation, and oxygen intake, with the aid of a therapist.


While it may appear painful, most will tell you it's not. Acupuncture involves the insertion of small needles in specific areas on the body to relieve tension. However, a British review of 14 studies has concluded that it may be too early to conclude whether acupuncture can directly reduce or alleviate headaches. In spite of this, study participants that had 12 acupuncture therapies over three months still used 15% fewer painkillers than those who didn't try acupuncture, suggesting that it may work for some people—be it a placebo effect or actual pain relief.

4. Ways to Prevent Migraines

Preventive treatments are useful for those who suffer from chronic migraines. Doctors have discovered that prescribing some drugs for "off-label use" (something different than their original, intended purpose) has become effective in helping out with migraine problems. These include:


Antidepressants are a very common preventive treatment. There is apparently a relationship between serotonin, a brain chemical that controls your mood, and migraines. Using a drug that boosts serotonin is actually powerful in regulating migraines and mood. Because serotonin is a vasoconstrictive chemical (helps your bloodstream and tissues contract) doctors believe that antidepressant medications that boost your serotonin levels contribute to preventing the swelling of the brain vessels and tissues. For this reason, those with a vascular condition, hypertension, and coronary ailments should never take these medications.


An antihistamine called cyproheptadine is likewise noted for supporting to regulate serotonin levels.


Beta-blockers are medicines you might associate with cholesterol issues or other heart problems. However, they are finding their way into migraine treatment. Other cardiovascular medicines are likewise useful, like calcium-channel blockers and hypertension medicines. Physicians don't really know why these manage to help—it may be because they reduce pressure on the bloodstream. However, they've been tested and resulted in helping individuals who experience minor and reduced painful migraines. These are effective when you have heart issues as well as migraines and can't take medicines that increase serotonin levels.

Anti-Seizure Medication

Another alternative treatment possibility would be anti-seizure drugs. Though they are used temporarily for treatment until some other options are chosen. Anti-seizure drugs work by blocking the neurotransmitters that initiate migraine symptoms.

5. Supplements and Herbal Remedies

Additionally, the following are some other options and supplements, both medicinal and herbal, and supplemental options that are originally intended to help migraine sufferers:

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)

One more reason your mother advised you to eat your broccoli! Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, helps repair and improve brain cells. Take this as a health supplement, or consume foods rich in vitamin B. In research conducted in Belgium, they found that 60% of people who took 400 milligrams of Vitamin B2 every day reduced their migraine attacks in half.


Feverfew is a natural health supplement. A British study has shown that this widely-used medicinal herb offers mild and temporary benefits. Those who ingested feverfew extract, which contains a minimal amount of parthenolide, reduced their migraine from an average of five times a month to an average of three times a month. It is an anti-inflammatory, somewhat like ibuprofen. Perhaps this is an effective treatment to try. Like many medicines, however, excessive use may cause adverse effects.


Melatonin is a natural sleep aid. 70% of clinical study participants who took melatonin before going to sleep every night for three months said the number of migraines bouts they experienced reduced by almost 50%.

Butterbur-Mixed Remedies

One specialist calls these effective herbal supplements "the safest herbal to date for the treatment of migraine headache." The journal Neurology reports that 69% of those who took a butterbur product called Petadolex noticed the number of migraines they experienced decreased by 50%.

Note: This medicinal spice may have cancer-causing components. Those with a significant risk of tumors and women who are pregnant may want to avoid butterbur. Experts are currently working on separating the good parts of the herb and disposing of the bad to produce a more effective migraine treatment.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

This is a preventive medication that is very popular. Coenzyme Q10 is created by the body to help cells and muscle tissues perform. Scientific tests vary on how effectively this really works to prevent migraines. Again, migraines are an issue that varies from person to person—this has proven helpful for a few, but ineffective for others.

If you get several migraines every month, you are a potential prospect for these treatments. Within a month of use, they may reduce your migraine frequency by 50%. Research shows that 90% of people who use beta-blockers propranolol (Inderal) and timolol (Blocadren) experience relief. When beta-blockers don't give good results, calcium channel-blockers might work.

Note: Remember not to go overboard with pain relievers. German researchers caution that taking nonprescription pain medicines more than twice daily, or using triptans more than 17 times a month, can trigger rebound migraines.

6. Stages of a Migraine. There are four phases of a migraine: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome.

6. Stages of a Migraine. There are four phases of a migraine: prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome.

7. What Causes Migraines?

Surprisingly, there is still no consensus about what causes migraines. It was only recently discovered that migraines are triggered by bloodstream dilating. Even though this can certainly be a factor in serious pain and the result of a feeling (lines, colors, different patterns, or blind spots evident just before migraine pain), doctors do not deem this to be the main cause. Current research suggests that other causes, such as the release of body chemicals and increased sensitivity to pain, happen simultaneously, which could be the real trigger of most migraine headaches. Lately, doctors have defined migraine as a neurological ailment, or one that happens in the brain.

Hereditary factors

What doctors can say for certain, however, is that migraines can be hereditary. If one of your parents suffers from migraine problems, there is a 50% possibility you might experience migraine headaches as well. If both of your parents are prone to migraines, your risk jumps to roughly 70%.

Brain "discharge"

Similarly, doctors don't know for sure what the results are once a trigger causes a migraine, or precisely what occurs in the brain. At this time, they believe that migraines are a result of the development of multiple issues: Pain-sensing tissues in your brain stem (nociceptors) detect changes in your habits and discharge a chemical (neuropeptides).

This chemical affects other pain-sensing tissues in the area, which make them more susceptible to pain. In addition, they release neuropeptides. Many of these chemicals continue to target the muscles around the blood vessels close to the area of your brain. Those muscles loosen up, getting the blood vessels to dilate and leading to extra blood circulating. Here, doctors believe the pain in a typical migraine is triggered.

Much of the neuropeptide chemicals cause the cranial nerves to start swelling, causing the cells around the area to expand.

Doctors presently consider this series of these conditions—increased sensitivity, swollen brain tissues, and enlarged blood vessels—as the cause of migraines.

8. Common Migraine Triggers

Triggers can occur everywhere. They can come from your surroundings, such as the weather or that truly terrible cologne your boss puts on. They can be behavioral, for instance, waking up very early or too late. They can also be food-related, for example consuming too much alcohol, caffeinated drinks, or solid cheese.

The following are a few of the most common migraine triggers:


There may be little medical proof that food can actually cause a migraine, but consider telling that to a frequent migraine victim who can't consume cheese any longer. It's quite likely that food-related migraines are related to food reactions. Certain foods that are migraine triggers include nuts, solid cheeses, and gluten, which can be contained in wheat, barley, and beers.

Beans, MSG (or monosodium glutamate), chocolates, milk and dairy foods, liquor and caffeine are often high on the list of triggers. In case you are used to drinking coffee or green tea regularly, not sipping it will likely be a trigger. A lot of foods with intense smells and flavors can be a suspect: Onions, sauerkraut, hot peppers, and spices are a few.


Migraines are attracted to changes. So, changing your habits even slightly can cause a migraine. Behavioral causes may include sleeping excessively or not getting sufficient rest, not eating properly or at the right time, skipping meals, being stressed, having too much sex, and often not having proper exercise or doing exercises too rigorously.


Migraines are sometimes the result of hormonal changes, which explains why women commonly experience migraines more than men. Most women initially encounter migraine pain when they start puberty. Afterward, they may have migraines whenever they have their menstrual period. Many women get less, and may also prevent developing, migraines after they get pregnant and after menopause. It is extremely uncommon for women over 60 to get migraines. A number of hormone replacement drugs (like estrogen) are often triggers.


A number of causes close to you can cause a migraine. Brilliant and flashing lights (like those from a computer screen), deafening noises (from live shows), potent odors, and changing climate patterns (mostly rain) can all be causes.

Seem hopeless? It's not. For people with migraines, having a record of the food you eat, what time you get up, and making note of whatever major improvements that take place in your daily life can help you identify causes and help you learn how to avoid them or understand when to take medicine.

9. Types of Migraines

The head is an interesting body part. There are millions of ways it helps you each day, however, there are many different ways it can result in pain, as well. While doctors don't know exactly the reasons some people get some types of migraines, they do identify some fundamental features:

  • A higher number of women suffer from migraine pain. However, men are ten times more likely than women to have cluster headaches and frequent attacks of pain that often concentrate behind one eye.
  • Migraines can be hereditary, but cluster headaches are not.
  • Migraine pain is often focused on one side of the head or the other, whereas cluster headache pain is typically behind one eye or the other.

These are some types of migraine headaches:

Chronic migraines

Those who experience more than 15 migraines each month are identified as experiencing chronic migraines.

Classic migraines

These are migraines with an aura—forms, colors, zigzag shapes, and blind areas at the edge of eyesight that happens before migraine pain happens.

Typical migraines

This could happen after you have migraine pain without aura. It can occur unexpectedly, but some have indicators like euphoria or mental difficulties before the appearance of pain.

Ophthalmic migraines

Several people have aura episodes (lines, blind spots, floating lights) without the head pains of a classic migraine. In most cases, these last about half an hour. Fortunately, most are harmless—possibly due to adjustments in the eye's blood vessels. Unfortunately, though, there's no reliable way to avoid or treat them; you need to simply let the pain subside. In case you have these and feel they're disrupting your study or work, schedule an examination with your eye specialist to ensure that they aren't indications of a much serious eye problem (they likely aren't).

Abdominal migraines

These are more common in children, although adults can also experience them. It may not be easy to diagnose when an abdominal migraine occurs because the warning signs are similar to that of a migraine (increased light and sound sensitivity, dizziness, feeling sick). However, much like an ocular migraine, there is no head pain. If you feel your kid suffers from abdominal migraines, consult your pediatrician.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are not migraines. They are by far the most painful of all headaches. The pain explodes instantly, always about two hours after the person has gone to sleep. Compared to that of a migraine, the pain occurs rapidly and is centered behind one eye or the other. Some can last between 15 minutes to two hours, usually disappearing as fast as they came. They are termed cluster headaches since they happen repeatedly for many weeks at a time (after that, they disappear for a few months, or even a whole year or more) before a second cluster begins. Cluster headaches do not often run in families, and they don't happen to be a result of brain problems or chemical causes. Sleeping problems along with behavioral factors are considered the major cause.

Thunderclap headaches

Similar to cluster headaches, the aptly named thunderclap headache is extremely fast and severe. However, they're shorter and will likely not recur nightly. They may be warnings of something severely wrong, like blood pooling in the brain. If you find one of these, see a doctor immediately!

10. Are Migraines and Headaches the Same?

Short answer: No.

A common headache is triggered by the constriction of the cranial nerves (vasoconstriction), whereas migraine pain is caused by the enlargement of these blood vessels (vasodilation). During a migraine, the tissue enclosing the brain is swollen, producing extreme pain. This is important to know because medicines recommended for a headache (formulated to dilate the bloodstream) will in fact amplify migraine pain. This is one of many reasons why a proper diagnosis of a migraine is very critical.

11. How Are Migraines Diagnosed?

Migraines are not easy to diagnose because the symptoms are often severe and can be similar to a number of other serious illnesses, such as hypertension, heart attack, brain cancers, and meningitis. Doctors can identify migraines after learning about your background, considering your set of symptoms, and ruling out some possible factors. Doctors can identify migraines after learning about your background, considering

Despite the fact that there are no specific tests for migraine headaches, a doctor may still request a number of tests:

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

  • This test is used to look at the soft tissues of the brain and exclude tumors, dementia, and other neural complications. An MRI uses an extremely strong magnetic field to scan the pulses that come from your brain tissues. You'll rest on a table and be transferred into a large tube, which makes loud humming sounds. Physicians then get a comprehensive, 3D view of your brain's tissues. Most people who are claustrophobic (fearful of confined spaces) are often uneasy with MRI tests. This test requires about 20-45 minutes.

CT Scan (Computerized Tomography):

  • CT scans are given to exclude blood clots or cancerous cells. They are incredibly detailed x-rays—while many x-rays apply just one ray, CT scans use lots of rays from various sides to obtain a 3-D image of your head. Usually, a physician will inject a contrast dye into your veins so they can see your brain more visibly. The test will take about 15 minutes.

Spinal Tap

  • A spinal tap is utilized to check for severe brain conditions like bacterial meningitis and encephalitis. It will also check for specific cancer diseases and multiple cases of sclerosis. Using this test, a doctor provides something to numb your spine. The physician will then use a long needle to puncture the base of your spine and obtain a portion of the fluid there. The cerebrospinal fluid prevents your brain and spine area from getting damaged.

Warning signs of migraines may vary among individuals, triggers, and migraines. Many get migraines with an aura that serves as an alert system before a migraine occurs. Auras are typically white or colorful lights that flicker at the edge of vision, hallucinations, blind or dark spots at the edge of sight, numbness, or prickling (commonly in the face or hands). Most people can feel aura symptoms varying from 10 minutes to three days before migraine pain is really felt. Frequently, people who get auras can encounter euphoria or similar mild symptoms before a migraine occurs.

Along with the severe pain on one or both sides of the skull, many will experience dizziness or nausea, losing appetite, and low energy during the migraine. Many may also have brain issues—difficulties speaking or hearing, recognizing simple written words, and errors in spelling. Make sure that you consult your doctor for tips on how best to recover not only during but after a migraine.

Good luck!

This article is meant for informational purposes only. Diagnoses and treatment should be done in consultation with a licensed healthcare professional.


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Understanding migraine

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Ammar on September 29, 2016:

I experienced the following works around very helpful.

- Fix the time of your meals, sleep and exercise.

- Take plenty of water when, you feel, it is going to start.

- Encounter it as it is going to start, take a hot cup of tea while sitting in low temperature.

- Make your room dark and try to sleep after putting the ice bags on lower sides of your feet by holding them with full palms of your hands and closing your eyes.

- For me the minimum sleep time is four hours to terminate the migraine fully, judge yours by your self.

- If you cant manage to sleep instantly, like it ignite while you are in office then try to close your eyes for maximum time and avoid the direct light of monitor, LCD, remove your shoes and lower the temperature.

- If you are feeling burning effect in your chest, then don't try hazel and dazel but go to your doctor he will give you medicine so that you can sleep as soon as possible.

Ijit on August 27, 2014:

Tylenol is NOT an NSAID!

quinnshawn on June 19, 2014:

Migranes are part of your eyesight messing up and not enough sleep and smoking