Migraine Headache Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

  • 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.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Migraine Remedies and Therapies

There are many treatment options if you have migraine headaches. Drugs are used, but some remedies and therapies don't use medication. Therapies include ice to the head, biofeedback, adequate sleep, smoking cessation, and avoiding any food and environmental triggers (for example, stress, flashing lights, and drinking red wine). Other recommendations include natural remedies like herbs, acupressure, aromatherapy, group therapy, and many others.

Quick GuideMigraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine headache definition and 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 include:
  • 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.
  • Migraines can be triggered by many factors, for example:
    • Hormonal changes
    • Stress
    • Strong stimuli like loud noises
    • Certain foods
  • Migraine treatment usually is with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drugs.
  • Prescription medications used to relieve the pain of migraine include triptans (a class of drugs), for example:
  • Lifestyle changes like eating a healthy diet and getting exercise may help reduce the frequency of your attacks.
  • Try to avoid any foods that trigger your migraines. It also may reduce the frequency of attacks.
  • Some people find that exercises, for example yoga, promote muscle relaxation are helpful in managing severe pain.
  • Most people with migraines usually are able to manage their condition with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.
  • Some people may need prescription medications to decrease the frequency of headaches.

What is a migraine headache?

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 usually are associated with sensitivity to sound, light, and smells. Some people have symptoms of nausea or vomiting. This type of headache 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.

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. These occur due to contraction of the muscles of the scalp, face, and neck.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/13/2017

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