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Migraine Headaches: Causes, Treatment & Symptoms

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

Migraine Headaches

Know the basics

What is migraine headaches?

Migraine headaches are intense headaches that usually affect one side of the head. It is usually accompanied with nausea, vomiting and intense sensitivity to light.

A migraine can last from several hours to several days. This disease can affect your working capacity and daily activities if not treated timely and promptly. With the right treatment combines with home remedies and lifestyle changes, migraines can be managed.

How common is migraine headaches?

Anybody can have migraine headaches. However, it more commonly affects women than men. Most cases are seen in in ages of 10 to 45 years.

You can minimize the chance of having a migraine by reducing your risk factors and identifying certain triggers. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of migraine headaches?

In some cases of migraines, symptoms may last for hours to days.  The progression of symptoms may go through four phases: prodrome, aura, headache and postrdrome.

During the prodrome phase, there are signs and symptoms that can let you know a migraine is about to start as early as 1 to 2 days before. These include:

  • Mood changes such as depression;
  • Constipation;
  • Neck stiffness;
  • Uncontrollable yawning;
  • Irritability;
  • Feeling sluggish;
  • Appetite changes and nausea.

The next phase is called aura. This may occur before or during a migraine headache. Auras are nervous system symptoms that build up over several minutes and may last for 20 to 60 minutes. These symptoms may include:

  • Visual disturbances such as flashes of light;
  • Vision loss;
  • Pins and needles sensations in the arm or leg;
  • Speech or language problems (aphasia).

Once you have a migraine attack, the pain can get intense that last from 4 to 72 hours. During the migraine attack, you may also experience the following:

  • Pain on one side or both sides of the head;
  • Pulsating and throbbing pain;
  • Sensitivity to light (photosensitivity);
  • Sensitivity to noise (phonosensitivity);
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Lightheadedness/faintness.

The postdrome phase occurs after a migraine headache. You will sometimes feel drained and possibly a feeling of mild euphoria.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if:

  • You are over 50 years old and have migraines;
  • Your migraine headache worsen;
  • Your using medications are not relieving your migraine;
  • You have a headache after a head injury;
  • Your headache is accompanied with fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision, or weakness;
  • Headache that gets worse after coughing, exertion, or sudden movement.

Know the causes

What causes migraine headaches?

The exact cause of migraines is still unclear. Although there are genetic and environmental factors that can trigger a migraine. These may include:

  • Changes and interactions in the trigeminal nerve (a major pain pathway).
  • Imbalances in brain chemicals such as serotonin (a chemical that helps regulate pain in the nervous system).
  • Hormonal changes in women (usually changes in estrogen can trigger a migraine – during menstrual periods, pregnancy, menopause).
  • Certain foods such as cheese, salty foods and processed foods seem to trigger migraines as well as skipping meals or fasting.
  • Food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or aspartame (sweetner).
  • Alcoholic drinks and highly caffeinated drinks may trigger a migraine.
  • Stress can also cause a migraine.
  • Changes in weather.
  • Changes in sleep patterns.
  • Medications such as oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy drugs.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for migraine headaches?

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing migraine headaches:

  • Family history. About 90 percent of people migraines have a family member with migraines.
  • Hormonal changes. This can happen before or after your menstrual period, during pregnancy or menopause.
  • Being a woman. Women are 3 times more likely to have a migraine than men.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is migraine headaches diagnosed?

To give you a proper diagnosis, your doctor may perform the following tests:

  • Physical and neurological exam;
  • Blood tests;
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan;
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI);
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture).

How is migraine headaches treated?

Migraines cannot be cured. There are treatment options that will help you manage your symptoms. These treatment options may include:

  • Pain medications are using to treat a migraine attack. These drugs should be taken at the first sign of the headache to be the most effective. These drugs may include:
  • Aspirin,
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs),
  • Triptans such as sumatriptan (Imitrex®), rizatriptan (Maxalt®), almotriptan (Axert®) and zolmitriptan (Zomig®). These drugs work by constricting blood vessels and blocking the pain in the brain.
  • Ergots such as ergotamine with caffeine (Migergot®, Cafergot®), ergotamine (Ergomar®), dihydroergotamine (Migranal®). These drugs are effective for migraine pain that lasts for more than 48 hours.
  • Opioid medications contain narcotics such as codeine. These are used in cases where other drugs do not give relief. These drugs can be habit-forming and are only used as a last resort.
  • Preventative medications are best used when you have more than 4 migraine attacks a month and if pain last for more than 12 hours. These drugs can help reduce the frequency, severity and length of migraines.

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Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage migraine headaches?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with migraine headaches:

  • Try muscle relaxation exercises. Relaxation may help ease the pain of a migraine headache.
  • Relaxation techniques may include progressive muscle relaxation, meditation or yoga.
  • Get enough sleep, but do not oversleep. Get an adequate amount of sleep each night. It is best to go to bed and wake up at regular times, as well.
  • Rest and relax. If possible, rest in a dark, quiet room when you feel a headache coming on. Place an ice pack wrapped in a cloth on the back of your neck and apply gentle pressure to painful areas on your scalp.

Keep a headache diary. Continue keeping your headache diary even after you see your doctor. It will help you learn more about what triggers your migraines and what treatment is most effective.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.


  • Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Download version.
    Porter, Robert. Kaplan Justin. Homeier Barbara. The Merck manual home health handbook. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2009. Print version. Page 652.
  • Migraine Headaches. Accessed July 15, 2016.
  • Migraine Headaches. Accessed July 15, 2016.
  • Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
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