Migraine: Symptoms, Causes, and Effective Treatments

Understand migraine symptoms, triggers, and effective treatments for managing this neurological disorder. Get relief with medications, lifestyle changes, and preventative strategies.

Migraine is a complex neurological disorder that affects millions worldwide. Dr. Amaal Starling from Mayo Clinic says it’s genetic. It affects one in five women, one in 16 men, and one in 11 kids.1 Women are more likely to get migraines due to hormonal differences.1 If a parent has migraines, their child has about a 50% chance of getting them too.1

The attacks can be severe. They include intense head pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Some might feel mood changes or crave certain foods before the attack.1 About a third of those with migraines have auras, like seeing spots or feeling numb.1 After an attack, people might feel very tired or have trouble thinking for up to a day.

Doctors diagnose migraine based on the patient’s symptoms. There’s no specific test for it.1 Treatments include medicine to stop or prevent attacks. Lifestyle changes can also help, by avoiding known triggers.1 Many need a mix of both kinds of treatment to manage their migraines.1

Key Takeaways

  • Migraine is a genetic neurological disorder that affects one in five women, one in 16 men, and one in 11 children.
  • Migraine attacks are three times more prevalent in women than in men.
  • There is a 50% chance that a child may develop migraine if a parent has it.
  • Approximately one-third of people living with migraine experience aura before or during an attack.
  • Lifestyle changes and the right medications can help improve the lives of those with migraine.

Understanding Migraine: A Neurological Disorder

What is a Migraine?

As per the second source,2 migraine is a disorder of the brain and nervous system. Its main sign is intense, repeating headaches. These headaches usually feel like a throbbing or pounding. They get worse with movement. Migraine ranks as the second top cause of years lived with disability across the world. It affects over a billion people.3

Migraine vs. Headache: Key Differences

Migraine headaches often affect one side of the head. They come with other signs like feeling sick, throwing up, or not liking bright light or loud sounds.2 These signs show a clear difference between migraines and regular headaches. The latter often cause pain on both sides of the head. But, they don’t have these extra symptoms.

3 More women get tension headaches compared to men. This is the same trend we see in migraines.3 Yet, the power and how long a migraine attack lasts make it its own, separate neurological problem.

Who Is at Risk for Migraines?

A person’s chance of getting migraines can be affected by several things.1 For example, women have a higher risk than men.1 Most often, migraines begin from age 10 to 40.1 They might get better after menopause.1

Genetics are a big part too. If someone in your family has migraines, you’re more likely to get them.1 Your risk goes up if both your parents have had migraines.

Also, certain health issues can make you more likely to have migraines. These include depression, anxiety, and sleep problems.4

Migraine Risk FactorsImpact
GenderWomen are three times more likely to get migraines than men.1
AgeMigraines usually start between the ages of 10 and 40, and symptoms may improve after menopause.1
Family HistoryFour out of five people with migraine have other family members who also get them. If one parent has a history of migraines, the child has a 50% chance of developing them, and the risk jumps to 75% if both parents have a history.1
Medical ConditionsCertain medical conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and epilepsy can raise the odds of getting migraines.4

migraine risk factors

The Stages of a Migraine Attack

Migraines are much more than a simple headache. They move through different stages. These stages can tell us a lot about what’s going on.5 Most migraines go through four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome. But not everyone experiences all these stages.

Migraine Prodrome: Early Warning Signs

Before a migraine starts, some people see signs in the prodrome stage, like hours or days before.5 About 60% of those with migraines notice these early warnings. Signs can include being sensitive to light, sound, or smell, feeling tired, wanting specific foods or not wanting any at all, mood swings, thirst, more bathroom trips, and stomach issues.5 Knowing and recognizing these signs can really help get ready for a migraine attack or possibly even control it.

Migraine Aura: Visual and Sensory Symptoms

About 25% of people with migraines get aura. This is a unique stage that involves different nervous system signs.6 Aura can last from five to 60 minutes and often comes before the headache. However, in kids, it might happen at the same time as the headache.6 People may see things abnormally, feel tingling or numbness, or have trouble talking during aura.5

See also  How to Treat a Headache? Effective Tips and Remedies

The Migraine Attack: Intense Headache and Associated Symptoms

The migraine attack is the stage most people know about because of the severe, throbbing headache. It’s often on just one side of the head.7 The pain can start above the eyes and spread or change from one side of your head to the other.7 People might also get bothered by light, sound, and smells. They could feel dizzy, pass out, throw up, or feel like throwing up.

Migraine Postdrome: The Aftermath

After the attack, the postdrome phase comes. This can last hours or even days.6 During this time, you may feel very tired, out of it, off, or even happy for no clear reason.5 Recovering from a migraine can be slow. Some might fade slowly while others seem to suddenly end after throwing up or crying.6

This knowledge about the various stages can really help those who suffer from migraines.6 It can make getting the right diagnosis, choosing treatments, and coming up with ways to lessen how often and how bad migraines are more manageable.

Migraine: Causes and Triggers

The causes of migraine aren’t totally clear. Yet, we know they involve genetic and environmental elements.1 Doctors think genes are key because they affect what triggers your migraines.1 So, if your parent has migraines, you might too. The chance is about 50 percent.1

Genetic and Environmental Factors

Migraine is a complicated brain issue tied to our genes.1 Some gene types can make you more likely to get migraines. But, things like stress, hormonal changes, certain foods, and bad sleep can also trigger them.1

Common Migraine Triggers

Knowing and handling your migraine triggers is key.2 Your doctor might want you to keep a diary. This helps track when your migraines happen and what might have started them.2 Triggers often include stress, not enough sleep, changing hormones, some foods and drinks, and changes in the weather.2

Understanding the genetic and environmental parts of migraines is crucial.12 Together with your healthcare team, you can create plans to deal with migraines better. This helps reduce how much they affect you.12

Diagnosing Migraine

Migraine is diagnosed clinically, not through tests8. Doctors look at the patient’s symptoms like headache pain, light sensitivity, feeling less active, and nausea8.

If someone thinks they have a migraine, they should see a doctor8. The doctor will check them for issues with thinking, strength, sight, and reflexes8. They might also do scans to check for other health problems8.

Key Diagnostic Criteria for MigraineDescription
Migraine with AuraCharacterized by visual or sensory symptoms before or at the beginning of the head pain, lasting from 15 minutes to 1 hour.8
Migraine without AuraInvolves pulsating pain of moderate-to-severe intensity lasting from 4 to 72 hours.8 This is the most common type of migraine.8
Chronic MigraineCan occur 15 or more days per month over a 3-month time span.8 Overusing over-the-counter pain medication for chronic migraines can make migraines worse over time.8

Once the doctor knows it’s a migraine, they will help the patient make a plan to handle it9. This plan will fit the patient’s own symptoms and needs9.

migraine diagnosis

Types of Migraines

Migraines have different forms. There are two main types: with aura and without aura.10

Migraine with Aura (Classic Migraine)

About 25% of migraine sufferers have migraine with aura.11 They might see weird things, feel numb, or talk oddly before the headache starts. These signs can last up to an hour.

Migraine without Aura (Common Migraine)

Most people with migraines experience the common type. You need five or more attacks a year for this diagnosis.10 It causes severe head pain, throwing up, and light/sound issues. It doesn’t have the aura phase.

Other Types of Migraines

There are other forms besides the classic and common ones. These include migraines with special auras or without pain, belly migraines, silent migraines, migraines around menstruation, and balance issues.10 The symptoms and causes can be very different, which is why it’s key to consult a doctor to know your type.

Effective Migraine Treatments

If you suffer from migraines, you can turn to different types of medicines for help. There are several. They group into those that help when you’re having an attack. Others work to lessen how often you get them. Then, there are also some you can buy without a prescription that might ease your symptoms.

Acute Migraine Medications

Acute medications aim to stop a migraine attack already in progress. They include things like triptans, ergots, and CGRP antagonists.12 These drugs target what causes the pain and symptoms. For instance, triptans make blood vessels narrow. They also stop pain signals going to your brain. And for a lot of folks, they start to work in just 2 hours.12

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Preventive Migraine Medications

On the other hand, you have preventive medications. You take these every day to cut back on how much you suffer from migraines. They might be medicines that treat seizures, antidepressants, and CGRP monoclonal antibodies.9 Botox injections, given every 12 weeks, can also help prevent these headaches.9

Over-the-Counter Migraine Medications

Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help for less severe migraines. They lessen swelling and block the pain signals, easing your suffering.12 Also, caffeine by itself or combined with medications like acetaminophen and aspirin can help.12

A mix of medicines, changes in behavior, and your daily routines is often the best approach.12

Avoiding Migraine Triggers

It’s key to find and deal with migraine triggers to treat this issue well. One tip is to keep a journal. This helps note when migraines happen and what might cause them.13

Identifying and Managing Triggers

Things like stress, changes in sleep, certain foods, and caffeine can trigger migraines.13 By knowing and steering clear of your personal triggers, you can lower how often and how bad your migraines are.

Migraine Trigger Foods and Drinks

For some, certain foods and drinks can start a migraine. These include cheeses, fish, wine, and caffeine.13 It’s important to watch what you eat and drink to avoid these painful headaches.

It helps to keep a diary of your migraine symptoms. Also, aim for good sleep, drink plenty of water, and dodge your known triggers.13 Stress is a big one for many, so find ways to manage it, like with exercise or meditation.14

Remember, triggers for migraines can work together, making an attack more likely.13 By knowing and avoiding what sets yours off, you can enjoy life more migraine-free.

Alternative Migraine Remedies

Many people with migraines try alternative ways to ease their symptoms. They use vitamins, minerals, relaxation techniques, and even Botox. These methods can help reduce the impact of migraines and stop them from happening.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs

Studies have shown certain vitamins and minerals can help with migraines. For instance, taking 400 mg of vitamin B2 daily for 3 months lowered the days and pain of migraines.15 Another study notes magnesium can be useful when taken with standard migraine drugs.15

Ginger, curcumin, citron, and coriander are herbs that might help too. Ginger powder was found to reduce pain after 2 hours in one review.15 Others suggest curcumin, chamomile, and menthol could work well to prevent or treat migraines.15

Relaxation Techniques and Acupuncture

Relaxation methods like yoga can also make a difference. Yoga can lower the frequency and pain of migraines, as recent research says.15 It can also help with anxiety and stress.15

Acupuncture’s effects are less clear, but acupressure seems promising. A study from 2010 shows that acupressure might be more effective than muscle relaxers even 6 months later.16

Botulinum Toxin Type A Injections (Botox®)

For those with chronic migraines, Botox injections can be an option. They’re being studied for their ability to lessen the number and severity of migraine attacks.17

Alternative treatments are not meant to replace usual medications but can be useful alongside them. It’s always important to talk to a doctor to find what works best for you.

Migraine During Pregnancy

Migraine is a big issue for pregnant women, with 15 to 20 percent experiencing it.18 The good news is, more than half see fewer migraines in the last pregnancy trimester.18 But, migraines could get worse after giving birth.18

Though women who’ve had migraines before usually don’t have big problems during pregnancy.18 Yet, if they get migraine-like headaches for the first time when pregnant, they need a close check. This is to make sure it’s not something very serious like brain bleeding or tumors.18

Doctors suggest some safe ways to deal with migraines when pregnant. Using a little caffeine and acetaminophen is okay.18 But stay away from NSAIDs early in pregnancy as they might cause bleeding and miscarriage.19

For more severe pain, you can use acetaminophen, promethazine, or opioid painkillers. But use the opioids carefully to prevent any risk of addiction for you and the baby.18

It’s really important for pregnant women with migraines to talk a lot with their doctors. It’s best to talk to a specialist in headaches and to your pregnancy doctor. They can make sure any treatment you get is safe for your baby.19

Coping with a Migraine Attack

When a migraine hits, finding ways to cope is key to managing its effects. The20 third source suggests several strategies for migraine relief:

  • Rest in a dark, quiet room to lower stimulation and help the body heal.20
  • Put a cold compress or ice pack on your head or neck to reduce swelling and pain.20
  • Keep hydrated by drinking water or an electrolyte-rich drink.20
  • Use over-the-counter pain meds like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen if a doctor recommends them.
  • Relax with deep breathing, meditation, or other calm techniques to handle stress and pain.20
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Keep in mind, these methods might not work the same for everyone. It’s best to talk to a health expert for your own plan.2012 Living a healthy life with good sleep,20 exercise,20 healthy meals, and20 stress control can cut how often and how bad your migraines are.

If you need more help, groups like the National Headache Foundation, Move Against Migraine, and Miles for Migraine can lend a hand. They have online groups and real-life meetings with experts to help you deal with migraines20 better.

Migraine Research and Future Treatments

Migraines are a complex neurological issue. Research keeps digging into the roots of migraines. This helps find better treatments.21 The University of Virginia Brain Institute suggests that a new way to fight migraines could be by targeting progesterone receptors in the brain. This might be especially good for women in their childbearing years.21 However, there have been mixed results on whether progesterone helps reduce pain. This shows we need more effective and clear approaches to deal with migraine pain.21

In the last few years, migraine research has really taken off.22 Now, there are new treatments for when a migraine hits, like 5-HT1f drugs and CGRP antagonists. These drugs can be taken through the nose with nasal sprays.22 There are also new medicines that can help stop migraines from happening in the first place. These include CGRP monoclonal antibodies.22 That’s not all. There are also efforts to use magnetic, electric, and mechanical methods to stop migraines.23

Even with all these improvements, more research is necessary. We need to fully understand migraines and find better treatments.21 One area being looked into is a peptide called PACAP and its role in migraines. There’s also a push to make getting a migraine diagnosis and proper care easier.23 So, as science keeps pushing forward, there is hope for a better life for those dealing with migraines. Solutions might not be far off.


What is a migraine?

Migraine is a type of severe headache affecting many. It impacts one in five women, one in 16 men, and one in 11 children. Symptoms include intense head pain, feeling sick, and being sensitive to light and sound.

What are the main types of migraines?

There are two main types: migraine with aura and without aura. Some other types might be seen as well.

What are the risk factors for developing migraines?

Migraines are more common in women. They often start between 10 and 40 years, improving after menopause. Family history and genetics also greatly influence getting migraines.

What are the different stages of a migraine attack?

Migraines occur in stages. There might be early signs (prodrome), strange vision or sensations (aura), a severe headache phase, and then a recovery period (postdrome).

What causes migraines and what are common triggers?

The main causes of migraines are not completely clear. Both genes and outside factors seem to play a role. Some common triggers include stress, certain foods, and changes in routine.

How are migraines diagnosed?

Migraine is diagnosed through symptoms the patient reports. There are no specific tests for it. Health providers look for typical headache features like light sensitivity and nausea.

What are the treatment options for migraines?

Migraine treatments can involve stopping an attack, preventing them, or easing the pain. Doctors might suggest adjusting your lifestyle or trying alternative therapies.

How can I manage migraine triggers?

Managing triggers is key. Your healthcare provider might suggest tracking your symptoms in a diary. This can help you avoid or lessen your exposure to triggers.

What special considerations should pregnant women with migraines be aware of?

Pregnant women with migraines should talk to their doctors. Not all migraine meds are safe during pregnancy. It’s important to check with your doctor before taking any medication.

How can I find relief during a migraine attack?

To ease a migraine, rest in a dark, quiet place. Put a cold cloth on your head or neck. Drinking water, taking pain meds, or following your doctor’s advice can also help.

Source Links

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5005-migraine-headaches
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9506374/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8904749/
  5. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/what-are-the-stages-of-a-migraine
  6. https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/stages-of-a-migraine-attack/
  7. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraine-phases
  8. https://nyulangone.org/conditions/migraine/diagnosis
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20360207
  10. https://www.verywellhealth.com/different-types-of-migraines-1719576
  11. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraines-headaches-migraines
  12. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/in-depth/migraines/art-20047242
  13. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/avoiding-migraine-triggers
  14. https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2022/nov/6-migraine-triggers-to-avoid/
  15. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322814
  16. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/nontraditional-headache-treatments
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5353077/
  18. https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/migraine-headaches-during-pregnancy
  19. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraine-headaches-and-pregnancy
  20. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/learning-cope-migraines-headaches
  21. https://news.virginia.edu/content/new-research-may-offer-relief-migraine-sufferers
  22. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraines-new-treatments
  23. https://www.uclahealth.org/news/publication/migraine-treatments-what-are-latest-advances