Migraine Headaches; Debilitating but Controllable

Migraine headaches affect over twenty-eight million people annually.

Common Health Conditions

Migraine headaches affect over twenty-eight million people annually. Characterized by moderate to severe head pain, with a pulsating or throbbing feeling, nausea with or without vomiting, fatigue, and sensitivity to light and sound, migraines frequently are accompanied by auras - sparkling flashes of light or zigzag lines or blinding spots in your vision. Unlike tension headaches that cause a steady and tightening pain frequently accompanied by tightness in the neck or shoulders, migraines are vascular in origin and are more debilitating according to Mayo Clinic. A migraine episode typically lasts six to 48 hours.

Frequently migraines begin in adolescence and are most common between the ages of 15 and 45. Occurring three times more frequently in women, migraines often appear immediately before or during a woman's menstrual period. Lifestyle triggers include allergic reactions, loud noises, physical or mental stress, changes in sleep patterns, smoking or exposure to tobacco smoke, missed meals and alcohol consumption. Certain foods associated with migraines include: chocolate, nuts and nut butter, onions, dairy products, foods containing amino acid tyramine (such as red wine, aged cheese and smoked fish), and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG).

The New York Times Health Guide recommends keeping a headache diary to help identify what may be triggering your migraines: when your headache occurred, how severe it was and what were your symptoms, what you've eaten, changes in sleep patterns, and menstrual cycles. Your doctor can help you develop a plan to prevent the attacks and relieve symptoms during the attacks. Prevention therapies can include hormone therapy for some women whose migraines seem to be linked to their menstrual cycle, stress management strategies, such as exercise, relaxation, discontinuing smoking, avoiding missed meals, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding trigger foods.

Your doctor may prescribe therapies that prevent or halt a migraine (e.g. beta-blockers, anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, calcium-channel blockers and serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) and symptomatic medication that treat the symptoms that result from migraines, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, combination analgesics, such as Excedrin or Tylenol Migraine, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).

Although migraine headaches do not represent a significant threat to your health, in rare circumstances migraines may result in a stroke. The New York Times Health Guide recommends that patients call their physician immediately for an evaluation if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Speech, vision, or balance problems
  • Loss of consciousness
  • More severe headaches when lying down
  • A headache that's severe and starts abruptly
  • Side effects to medications, which can include an irregular heartbeat, changes in skin color, extreme sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, and depression.

For additional information, visit the following websites: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the American Headache Society, and the National Headache Foundation.


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