A migraine is a headache disorder characterized by recurrent headaches that are moderate to severe. Migraine attacks can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation that can last for hours or days. The pain can be so severe that it is disabling. Nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound are also commonly reported.
Migraine attacks often begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. They can cause significant pain for hours to days and can be so severe that the pain is disabling.
Migraines often progress through four stages that have different symptoms.
Stage 1 – Prodrome
1-2 days before a migraine, you may notice subtle changes that warn of an upcoming migraine, including:
- Mood changes, from depression to euphoria
- Food cravings
- Neck stiffness
- Increased thirst and urination
- Frequent yawning
Stage 2 – Aura
Symptoms of the nervous system that occur before or during migraines for some patients. They usually begin gradually and last 20-60 minutes.
- Visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or wavy, zigzag vision
- Vision loss
- Touching sensations (sensory), movement (motor) or speech (verbal) disturbances.
- Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
- Weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking
- Hearing noises or music
- Uncontrollable jerking or other movements
- Sometimes, a migraine with aura may be associated with limb weakness (hemiplegic migraine).
Stage 3 – Attack
A migraine usually lasts 4-72 hours if untreated. The frequency with which headaches occur varies from person to person. Migraines may be rare, or strike several times a month. During a migraine, you may experience:
- Pain on one side or both sides of your head
- Pain that feels throbbing or pulsing
- Sensitivity to light, sounds, and sometimes smells and touch
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting
Stage 4 – Post-Drome
Occurs after a migraine attack. You may feel drained and washed out, while some people feel elated. For about 24 hours, you may also experience:
- Sensitivity to light and sound
Migraines often go undiagnosed and untreated. If you regularly experience migraine attacks, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Keep a record of your migraine attacks, the symptoms, and how you treated them. There are many possible triggers for migraines including hormones, food, alcohol, stress, medication, and more.
Your doctor might be able to diagnose migraines based on your medical history, symptoms, and a physical and neurological examination. Additional tests may also be used to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms. Blood tests, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, and spinal taps are all considered.
There are a number of medications available to relieve the pain of your migraines or to try and prevent them. Lifestyle adjustments will be considered. Non-traditional therapies are also possible including acupuncture, massage therapy, and more.