Migraine Headache: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What is migraine?

A migraine is characterized by an excruciating pulsating headache followed by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sensitivity to light, sound and smells. A migraine can last for several hours and sometimes even for days.

If you get three or more headaches every week, and you need to take painkillers almost everyday for the headaches, you need to consult your family physician or a general physician

How is migraine caused?

Migraine is usually one sided, though children experience it on both sides of their head.

The root cause of a migraine still remains a mystery. The researchers and doctors do not have clear answers as to why migraines occur, but potential theories of the causes include:

  • stress

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • allergies

  • dehydration

  • drinking a large amount of alcohol

  • certain medications such as sleeping pills, contraceptive pills

  • nervous system disorder

  • blocked or irregular blood vessels, and circulatory system

  • family history

  • abnormalities in the brain chemicals

  • loud music

  • irregular blood sugar levels

  • oversleeping

  • missing a meal

  • certain foods items such as cheese, chocolate, caffeine can trigger migraine in some persons

What can make you prone to migraines?

Some causes of migraine typical to Indian patients are:

  • applying mehendi to hair

  • taking bath with cold water

  • long exposure to the sun

  • hot and humid summer weather

  • sinusitis

  • tooth pain

What are the symptoms of migraine? How is it diagnosed?

Generally migraines have a pattern. Migraine attacks go through 4 different stages. However some people may not experience all the four stages.

  • There are usually warning signs that appear before a migraine occurs. This period is called Prodrome. The warning signs which occur a day or two before the migraine include:

    • feeling lethargic

    • dizziness

    • drowsiness

    • loss of appetite

    • constipation

    • mood swings from depression to ecstatic

    • frequent urination

    • increased thirst

    • stiff neck

    • sensitivity to light and sound

    • fatigue

  • The next stage is called Aura which are symptoms of the nervous system. During this stage you may feel as if someone is touching you, or feel your muscles growing weak. You may also experience motor ( movement ) or speech disturbances. Aura symptoms may appear 5 - 20 minutes before a migraine and builds up to last from 30 - 60 minutes.
    Some common aura symptoms include:

    • difficulty while speaking


    • hearing humming noises, rhythmic sounds or music


    • sudden uncontrollable jerking movements


    • seeing flashes of light, bright spots or shadows and shapes


    • sudden vision loss for few minutes


    • pins and needles sensations in arms or legs


    • weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body


    • mild temporary paralysis on one side of the body


  • The third stage is when the migraine attack takes place. An attack can last from 1 hour to 72 hours. The attack is characterized by:

    • severe almost traumatic throbbing pain on one side of the head. In some people it may also occur on both sides of the head.

    • nausea and vomiting may occur in some people

    • fainting spells

    • sensitivity to light, smell, touch, and sounds

    • loss of appetite

    • blurry vision

    • irritability

    • nervousness


  • The final stage known as Postdrome occurs after the migraine attack. After the attack some people feel elated and active. In some others though the following symptoms may appear:

    • mood swings

    • dizziness

    • weakness

    • fatigue

    • sensitivity to light, sound and touch

 

In most people migraines remain undiagnosed, as it is brushed off as a severe headache.
You need to see a doctor immediately if you experience:

 

  • severe, throbbing headache

  • stiff neck

  • vision problems

  • weakness and Numbness

  • seizures

  • pulsating headache after a head injury

  • sudden severe headaches for long periods after the age of 50

 

Diagnosis

 

A doctor will diagnose you with migraine, on the basis of your personal medical history, family’s medical history, symptoms, your lifestyle and after performing physical and neurological exams which include, testing your strength, reflexes, co-ordination, and your short term memory.


The doctor may also suggest some other tests such as Blood tests, MRI, CT scan, and Spinal Tap to rule out the possibilities of any other disorder.

What are the complications of migraine?

The complications of migraine if left untreated are:

 

  • long lasting migraines ( upto 72 hours)  which may require hospitalization

  • a stroke due to bleeding in the brain

  • symptoms of the Aura stage can last for upto a week

  • epileptic seizure

  • mental health issues such as, bi-polar disorder, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and substance abuse.

What is the treatment for migraine?

Exercise

Research suggests that regular and moderate exercise can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.

Yoga, or mild regular aerobic exercises, or exercises such as jogging, swimming, dancing, cycling, and brisk walking can greatly benefit you if you suffer from migraines. It is important that you choose a form of exercise you enjoy and are comfortable with.


A word of caution however, strenuous exercises may provoke a migraine attack. This may lead you to believe that exercising causes migraine. If you experience a headache or migraine after exercising it is probably because:

  • you did not take sufficient fluids before and during exercising

  • you did not eat enough before exercising which may have caused your blood sugar levels to drop

  • you started exercising suddenly, without prior planning thus raising the demand for oxygen in your body

  • you are doing strenuous exercises which can cause migraine attack

Medical treatments

For treating migraine, doctors may prescribe you oral medications, or nasal sprays.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Migraine ?

Patient Experiences

susma
One Sided Headache & Hyperacidity
Hi I'm susma I had went to this doctor for my severe headache that comes one sided ,suffering with hyperacidity .unable to eat any kind of food at all this is all bcoz I used medic... Read More
Doctor in this story :Dr. Raghavendra Reddy
Oasis Health Care, Hyderabad
Chaithanya
Sinus & Migraines
I began seeing Dr prashanth almost a year ago. On my first visit I was trying to get control over my long standing sinus problems and continuous headache problems. But I have no pr... Read More
Doctor in this story :Dr. Prashant K Vaidya
Spiritual Homoeopathy Clinic, Hyderabad
John Abraham
Migraine, Warts & Thyroids Issues Brought Under Control
 Pros:- Very simple and down-to-earth doctor- Good Listener(she can keep listening for 30 mins also)- Not money minded- Consultation fee is very very nominal. No one can compl... Read More
Doctor in this story :Dr. G Banurekha
Homoeo Care Centre, Bangalore

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User

Im 33 years female.Im having the side effect that my left arm feels so heavy and im having swelling after taking prolomet xl12.5 mg and flunarin 10 mg ,rekool d.pls suggest what tp do?
Which tablet should i stop taking?

Dr. J.Mariano Anto Bruno Mascarenhas
Neurosurgeon, Chennai
If one hand alone is feeling heavy, it is more likely due to some local surgical cause
Please consult a general surgeon to make sure that there is no Surgical problem
Verified User

I have been suffering from severe headache everyday. What do I do so that it does not happen anymore?

Dr. Anil Kumar Jain
General Physician, Bangalore

hello there.
migraine is diagnosed when there is one sided headache (most commonly). which is preceded by a aura like nausea, vomiting etc. sounds, and light aggravate the headache and person usually finds himself at ease when he buried his head under the pillow.

 

other causes for headache could be eyes. if you have spectacles suggest you to wear it cause that induces headache everyday. if you don't have a spectacles, it would be wise to get them tested so that this cause is ruled out.
stress, hunger, etc can also cause headache. suggest you to visit a physician who would diagnose what headache it is, then treat accordingly. regards

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Specialists for Migraine

Did you know?

Women are more prone than men

Women are three times more prone to migraine attacks than men. One in four women has had a migraine. It has also been observed that women who experience frequent migraines are also more likely to suffer from heart problems

Occurs during hormonal changes to the body

Most of the time it is seen that adolescents experience migraines, probably due to the bodily and hormonal changes that occur during puberty. 15% of these people in whom migraine is recurring experience it in the same side of the head.

Frequency of attacks

8% of migraineurs suffer from 1-12 attacks each year. 38% of them experience it 1-3 times a month. 37% experience an attack once every week per week, and 11% experience 2-6 attacks a week.

Some quick stats

25% of the women and 8% men experience migraine at least once in their life.
Half of these people experience their first migraine before the age of 20.
98% of them experience it before the age of 50.
5% experience migraines for the first time between the ages of 5-15 years.

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Home remedies for Migraine

Apple Cider Vinegar

Mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of honey in a warm glass of water and drink every morning. This drink has an alkalizing effect on the body which can reduce the arthritis pain. Arthritis thrives in an acidic body.

Cold Compress

Try cold compress during the attack to lessen the pain. Wrap some ice cubes in a towel and apply to your temples.

Peppermint Tea

Drink peppermint tea which is sweetened with honey to prevent as well as lessen the migraine pain. The anti-inflammatory properties of peppermint helps to soothe nerves and prevent migraines

Warm Oil Head Massage

A warm oil head massage during a migraine attack can soothe the nerves and lessen your pain. Sesame oil is considered good for relieving the pain.

Inhale the Vapour of Lavender Oil

Add two to four drops of lavender oil in a bowl of boiling water and inhale the vapour. It will reduce your migraine. You can also apply a few drops of lavender oil on your temples.

Inhale the Vapour of Peppermint Oil

Add two to four drops of peppermint oil in a bowl of boiling water and inhale the vapour. Peppermint is known to be soothing for nerves. It will alleviate your migraine. You can also apply a few drops of peppermint oil on your temples.

Drink Coffee:

Last but not the least a cup of coffee can work wonders to relieve you of your migraine. Drinking too much coffee can however, worsen the symptoms.

Inhale the Vapour of Tulsi Oil

Add two to four drops of basil ( Tulsi) oil in a bowl of boiling water and inhale the vapour. It will reduce your migraine. You can also apply a few drops of Tulsi oil on your temples.