What Are Migraine Headaches?
There are many kinds of headaches.
Migraine headaches involve severe pain on
one or both sides of the head, an upset
stomach, sensitivity to lights and sounds,
and at times, changes in vision.
The pain of a migraine headache is
described as intense, throbbing, or pounding
and can be felt in the forehead, temple, ear,
jaw, or around the eye. Migraine often starts
on one side of the head but may spread to
the other side.
Some people notice vague symptoms before
the migraine starts. These can include:
ξ Mental fuzziness
ξ Mood changes
ξ Unusual retention of fluids
During the headache phase of a migraine, a
person may have diarrhea and increased
urination, as well as nausea and vomiting.
The pain of a migraine can last several days.
Other people may have neurological
symptoms called an aura up to an hour
before the headache starts. The person may
see flashing lights or zigzag lines, or may
temporarily lose vision.
Other symptoms of aura may include:
ξ Trouble talking
ξ Weakness of an arm or leg
ξ Tingling of the face or hands
Migraine can strike as often as few times a
week, or as rarely as once every few years.
It can happen at any time. In some cases
migraine can happen daily or almost
daily. This is called chronic migraine.
Some people have migraines at the same
times such as near the days of menstruation
or every Saturday morning after a stressful
week of work.
What Causes a Migraine?
There are several theories about what causes
a migraine. Complex changes happen in
the brain during and between migraine
attacks. Often migraine may run in
families. Headache triggers are different for
each person. Some people do not know of
any triggers, while others list one or more
triggers. What may trigger a migraine one
time may not trigger one every time.
What are Common Triggers?
ξ Hormonal changes
ξ Certain foods
ξ Too much or too little sleep
ξ Skipping meals
Medicine overuse headaches may happen
when a person takes either caffeine or
short-acting pain medicines more than
two days a week. For more information on
these headaches see Health Facts for You
What are the goals of Migraine
ξ Decrease the number and severity of
ξ Allow you to be active, get back
control of your life
ξ Enjoy life as fully as you can with as
few side effects as possible
There are several treatment approaches for
migraine. Success often involves combining
lifestyle changes and medicines
What are the most common methods to
prevent and control migraine and other
types of headaches?
ξ Biofeedback training
ξ Stress reduction
ξ Elimination of caffeine
ξ Elimination of certain foods
ξ Aerobic exercise, such as swimming
or vigorous walking
ξ Preventative medicines (also called
prophylactic) are to prevent and
decrease the number and intensity of
ξ Abortive medicines are to treat a
headache once it has started.
If you have headaches more than twice a
week or headaches that debilitate you more
than 1-2 days per month, you should be
prescribed a preventative medicine.
Medicines used to prevent or decrease the
number of headaches include:
You need to take these medicines every day
for them to work. It may take a few weeks
for them to start working, so be patient. For
a select group of patients with chronic
migraine (daily or near daily headaches)
treatment may include Botox injections.
For infrequent migraine, medicines can be
taken at the first sign of a headache in order
to stop it or to at least ease the pain.
Overuse of abortive medicines can cause
medicine overuse headaches.
During a migraine headache using a cold
pack may give short term relief.
One of the medicines often used to stop a
migraine is called a triptan (sumatriptan,
rizatriptan, naratriptan, and others). Another
used to stop a migraine is ergotamine
tartrate. For best results, these need to be
taken during the early stages of a migraine.
Other pain medicines can sometimes help to
stop a migraine. These include over-the-
counter medicines such as aspirin,
acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen
(Advil®, Motrin®), Naprosyn (Aleve®).
You should always get your doctor’s advice
before you routinely use these to treat
migraine. Opioid medicines
(hydrocodone, oxycodone, and others) are
sometimes prescribed, but can cause
headaches to be worse.
Caffeine can also be an abortive medicine
for headaches, but daily caffeine use can
make headaches worse. At times, you may
need to completely stop using caffeine to
help your headaches get better.
Side effects. Many antimigraine medicines
can have side effects. But like most
medicines they are fairly safe when used
with care and under your doctor's
supervision. Make sure you know the side
effects of your medicines. Your doctor can
help answer any questions.
Biofeedback and relaxation training.
Drug therapy for migraine is often combined
with biofeedback and relaxation training.
Biofeedback is a way to give people better
control over body functions such as blood
pressure, heart rate, temperature, muscle
tension, and brain waves. Biofeedback may
be combined with relaxation training, during
which patients learn to relax the mind and
Biofeedback can be practiced at home with a
portable monitor. But the goal of treatment
is to do biofeedback without a machine to
help you. You can then use biofeedback
anywhere at the first sign of a headache.
Diet. A number of people with migraine are
helped by changing their diet. Talk to your
doctor about whether a diet change would be
helpful for you.
Planning your treatment. Your doctor will
help you set up a treatment plan for your
headaches. Write it down and keep a copy
with you. If you need to see a different
doctor about your headaches, your treatment
plan will help you get the best care.
For more information about Headaches:
American Council for Headache Education
National Headache Foundation
National Institutes of Health Neurological
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright ©8/2016. University of Wisconsin Hospitals
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