Migraine Headache

  • Medical Author:
    Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN

    Dr. Taylor has a passion for treating patients as individuals. In practice since 1994, she has a wide range of experience in treating patients with many types of movement disorders and dementias. In addition to patient care, she is actively involved in the training of residents and medical students, and has been both primary and secondary investigator in numerous research studies through the years. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine (Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology). She graduated with a BS degree from Alma College, and an MS (biomechanics) from Michigan State University. She received her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her internship and residency were completed at Botsford General Hospital. Additionally, she completed a fellowship in movement disorders with Dr. Peter LeWitt. She has been named a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists. She is board-certified in neurology by the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. She has authored several articles and lectured extensively; she continues to write questions for two national medical boards. Dr. Taylor is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MSAC) of the Alzheimer's Association of Michigan, and is a reviewer for the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology.

  • Medical Editor: Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

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Botox for Migraines

Botox can prevent migraine headaches. This was first noted by a plastic surgeon who was using it to treat wrinkles and found that his patients told him they had fewer headaches. Botox is currently being extensively studied as a preventive medication for a variety of headaches, including in migraine sufferers with chronic daily headache (meaning having headaches more than 16 days out of the month), with the early data showing that it is effective in reducing the number of headaches in these people.

Quick GuideMigraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine headache facts

  • Migraine headache is a result of specific changes within the brain. It causes severe head pain that is often accompanied by sensitivity to light, sound, or smells.
  • Common symptoms of migraine are:
    • Eye pain
    • Sensitivity to light or sound
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Severe pain, usually on one side of the head that some individuals describe as "pounding"
  • Other types of headaches can also cause severe pain, and not all headaches are migraines. For example, some people describe the pain of cluster headaches as the worst pain they have experienced.
  • The exact cause of migraines is not known. Changes in neurotransmitter levels within the brain are thought to play a role.
  • Migraines are diagnosed by the typical clinical signs and symptoms.
  • A number of factors can trigger migraines to include:
    • hormonal changes,
    • stress,
    • strong stimuli like loud noises, and
    • certain foods.
  • Treatment of migraine involves over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications.
  • Prescription medications used to relieve the pain of migraine include the triptans, for example,
  • Lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise may be useful to help migraine sufferers manage the triggers of their condition.
  • Avoiding dietary triggers of migraines may be able to help some patients decrease the frequency of attacks.
  • Some people find that exercises, such as yoga, that promote muscle relaxation are helpful in pain management.
  • Most people with migraines find their condition to be manageable with a combination of medications and lifestyle modifications.
  • Preventive medications of a variety of drug classes may be used in some patients to decrease the frequency of migraines.

What is a migraine?

Although many people use the term "migraine" to describe any severe headache, a migraine headache is the result of specific physiologic changes that occur within the brain and lead to the characteristic pain and associated symptoms of a migraine.

Migraine headaches are usually associated with sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. In addition, many patients experience nausea or vomiting. The headache of a migraine often involves only one side of the head but in some cases, patients may experience pain bilaterally or on both sides. The pain of a migraine is often described as throbbing or pounding and it may be made worse with physical exertion.

In some cases, patients with migraines experience specific warning symptoms, or an aura, prior to the onset of their headache. These warning symptoms can range from flashing lights or a blind spot in one eye to numbness or weakness involving one side of the body. The aura may last for several minutes, and then resolves as the head pain begins or may last until the headache resolves. For patients who have never experienced an aura, the symptoms can be frightening and can mimic the symptoms of a stroke.

Not all headaches represent migraines, and migraine is not the only condition that can cause severe and debilitating headaches. For example, cluster headaches are very severe headaches that affect one side of the head in a recurrent manner (occurring in a "cluster" over time). The pain is sometimes described as "drilling," and can be worse than migraine pain in some cases. Cluster headaches are less common than migraine.

Tension headaches are a more common cause of headache. Thee occur due to contraction of the muscles of the scalp, face, and neck.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/2/2016

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