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Migraine Headache Fact Sheet

View Migraine Headache Fact Sheet  (PDF, 220 KB)

Migraine treatment at UK HealthCare

The UK Headache and Pain Clinic provides specialized care for patients suffering from neurologically related chronic pain syndromes.

What is a migraine?

Migraines are thought to be a type of vascular (VAS-ku-lar) headache caused by problems with the blood vessels in the head. Migraines may start when blood vessels in the head swell, causing severe pain and other symptoms. Migraines may last anywhere from a few hours to several days and can affect your ability to do everyday activities.

Migraines that have warning signs before they start are called classic migraines. Migraines that start without warning signs are called common migraines.

What triggers a migraine?

What starts a migraine differs from person to person, but common triggers include the following.

  • Bright or flashing lights, loud noises or strong smells such as chemical fumes
  • Hot and humid days, bright sunlight or sudden changes in air pressure
  • Hormone changes in women
  • Medications
  • Oversleeping or not getting enough sleep
  • Going too long without eating
  • Smoking or being around smoke
  • Certain foods or drinks like chocolate, hard cheese or alcoholic drinks
  • Nitrates found in many processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs and deli meats
  • Gluten found in wheat and other grains.
  • MSG or artificial sweeteners
  • Caffeine
  • Eye strain
  • Stress

What are the warning signs?

Although there are a wide variety of warning signs for each individual, common migraine warning signs include the following:

  • Unusual tiredness or frequent yawning
  • Tingling in an arm or legs
  • Visual changes, often called auras, that may include blurred vision, blind spots, seeing bright spots, lines or other hallucinations

What are symptoms of a migraine?

A migraine headache usually begins as a dull ache around the eye or temple. Migraine pain may be throbbing, pulsing or pounding on one or both sides of the head. It is common to feel sick to your stomach and vomit before and during a migraine headache.

How are migraines diagnosed?

A neurologic (nu-roh-LAH-jik) exam may be necessary to check the brain and nerves. Additional tests may be done to make sure the headaches are not a symptom of a more serious problem. These additional tests may include an MRI or a CT scan can check the tissue and blood vessels of the head.

How are migraines treated?

There is no cure for migraine headaches, but they can be controlled with treatment. Someone who experiences migraine pain may benefit from the following:

  • Avoid smoke and alcohol
  • Exercise
  • Find and avoid triggers using a diary to track when the headaches start and stop, how the pain felt and where it was
  • Apply a heating pad to the area- do not sleep on the heat source
  • Use a towel to cover a plastic bag full of ice- do not put the ice pack directly on the skin
  • Over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, acetaminophen (a-seet-a-MIN-oh-fen) or ibuprofen (eye-bu-PROH-fen)
  • Medicines made to treat other illnesses, including blood pressure medicines, anti-seizure medicines, and medicines used to treat depression
  • Learn to relax with deep breathing, meditation (med-i-TAY-shun), music, or biofeedback
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day

To Find Out More

National Headache Foundation
820 N. Orleans, Suite 217
Chicago, IL 60610

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824

Page last updated: 10/16/2013 3:25:55 PM