Migraine headaches seem to be caused in part by changes in the level of a chemical made in the brain called serotonin. Serotonin plays many roles in the body, and it can have an effect on blood vessels. When serotonin levels are high, blood vessels constrict (shrink). When serotonin levels fall, the blood vessels dilate (swell). This swelling can cause pain or other problems.
You may have a “premonition” several hours to a day before your headache starts. Premonitions are feelings you get that can signal a migraine is coming. These feelings can include intense energy, fatigue, food cravings, thirst and mood changes.
* Intense throbbing or dull aching pain on one side of your head or both sides
* Pain that worsens with physical activity
* Nausea or vomiting
* Changes in how you see, including blurred vision or blind spots
* Being bothered by light, noise or odors
* Feeling tired and/or confused
* Stopped-up nose
* Feeling cold or sweaty
* Stiff or tender neck
* Tender scalp
Classic migraines start with a warning sign, called an aura. The aura often involves changes in the way you see. You may see flashing lights and colors. You may temporarily lose some of your vision, such as your side vision.
Auras last about 15 to 30 minutes. Auras may occur before or after your head pain, and sometimes the pain and aura overlap, or the pain never occurs. The head pain of classic migraines may occur on one side of your head or on both sides.
Common migraines don’t start with an aura. Common migraines may start more slowly than classic migraines, last longer and interfere more with daily activities. The pain of common migraines may be on only one side of your head.
How long do migraines usually last?
* Strong or unusual odors, bright lights or loud noises
* Changes in weather or altitude
* Feeling tired, stressed or depressed
* Changes in sleeping patterns
* Certain foods (see the list below), especially those that contain tyramine, sodium nitrate or phenylalanine
* Missing meals or fasting
* Menstrual periods, birth control pills or hormonal changes (in women)
* Intense physical activity, including sexual activity
* Aged, canned, cured or processed meat, including bologna, game, ham, herring, hot dogs, pepperoni and sausage
* Aged cheese
* Alcoholic beverages, especially red wine
* Beans, including pole, broad, lima, Italian, navy, pinto and garbanzo
* Brewer’s yeast, including fresh yeast coffee cake, donuts and sourdough bread
* Caffeine (in excess)
* Canned soup or bouillon cubes
* Chocolate, cocoa and carob
* Cultured dairy products, such as buttermilk and sour cream
* Meat tenderizer
* Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
* Nuts and peanut butter
* Onions, except small amounts for flavoring
* Passion fruit
* Pea pods
* Pickled, preserved or marinated foods, such as olives and pickles, and some snack foods
* Red plums
* Seasoned salt
* Snow peas
* Soy sauce
There are 2 types of medicines for migraine treatments. One type focuses on relieving the headache pain. This type of treatment should be started as soon as you think you’re getting a migraine. The other type includes medicines that are used to prevent headaches before they occur.
Yes. Nonprescription medicines that can help relieve migraine pain include aspirin, acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol), an acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine combination (one brand name: Excedrin Migraine), ibuprofen (one brand name: Motrin), naproxen (brand name: Aleve), and ketoprofen (brand name: Orudis KT).
What about prescription medicines?
People who have more severe pain may need prescription medicine. A medicine called ergotamine can be effective alone or combined with other medicines. Dihydroergotamine is related to ergotamine and can be helpful.
Yes. Medicine to prevent migraines may be helpful if your headaches happen more than twice a month or if your headaches make it hard for you to work and function. Examples of medicines used to prevent migraines include propranolol, timolol, divalproex and some antidepressants.
Try to avoid foods or other things that seem to cause migraines for you. Keep a journal to help you identify triggers. Get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of fluids. Try to relax and reduce the stress in your life. Also try to get regular exercise. Aerobic exercise can help reduce tension as well as keep your weight in check. Obesity can contribute to migraines.