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What's a migraine headache?

Frequently throbbing and painful, migraine headaches can range from mild to severe in intensity. They may come with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sounds and light. Migraines are much more intense and painful than ordinary tension headaches. They may last from a half hour to 72 hours.


What causes migraines?

Bright or pulsating light, sneezing, straining, constant motion, moving your head quickly, certain smells or foods, weather and seasonal changes, and physical activity can trigger migraines or make them worse. In women, migraines can happen regularly around the menstrual cycle when hormone levels go up and down. In some cases, migraines run in families. But the exact cause isn't known.


What are the symptoms of a migraine?

You may feel intense, throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head. Before the headache starts, some people see zigzag lines or flashes of light or have other changes in vision, or they may feel numbness and tingling in the fingers of one hand, lips, tongue, or lower face (called an aura).


Other signs and symptoms of a migraine include tingling or numbness on one side of your body and trouble speaking; loss of appetite, nausea, or vomiting; feeling of tenderness in your head and neck; nasal stuffiness, runny nose, or teary eyes.


How are migraines diagnosed and treated?

No test can diagnose migraines, so your healthcare provider will ask questions about your symptoms and perform an exam. You may have tests done, such as X-rays and scans, to rule out other causes for your headaches.


Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help prevent or lessen the pain and suggest that you make some changes in your lifestyle.


When you're having a migraine, take your prescribed medicine as soon as it starts-don't wait for the pain to get worse. Then lie down in a dark, quiet room and place a cold cloth over your eyes.


What can I do to prevent migraines?

Some medicines are used to prevent migraines and should be used even if you aren't having a headache. Using these medicines can decrease the severity and number of headaches you experience. Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent migraines.


Change your diet. Certain foods trigger migraines in some people. Keep a "headache diary" and write down the foods you ate before a migraine started. This helps you identify foods you should avoid. These foods may trigger migraines:


* beverages or foods containing caffeine


* dairy products


* hotdogs, salami, cold cuts, and bacon


* chicken liver and smoked fish


* MSG (monosodium glutamate)


* figs, avocados, onions, and bananas


* chocolate


* nuts and peanut butter


* red wine.



Develop good sleep habits. Stick to a schedule to go to sleep and wake up, even on the weekends.


Take medicine as prescribed. Use aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen as directed for pain, unless you shouldn't take these medicines for some reason. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger pain medicine if you need it. Be sure to take it exactly as prescribed because overuse of some medicines can make migraines worse. If your medicine doesn't work, your healthcare provider can prescribe a different one.


Reduce stress in your life. Regularly practice relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or biofeedback. Your healthcare provider can help you learn more about these stress reducers.