Migraine is much more than just a headache. It is a serious, debilitating neurological disease that causes severe pain and temporary disability, the symptoms of which are largely undetectable to others. Migraine affects many different systems, producing different patterns of attacks in each person who suffers from them.
The causes of migraine are not yet understood, but recent research has greatly improved our understanding of what happens during a migraine attack. It is caused by a sequence of neurochemical events and subsequent reactions that produce the symptoms of migraine, including1:
- Pain on one side or both sides of the head
- Pain that has a pulsating, throbbing quality
- Sensitivity to light, sounds, and sometimes smells
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Lightheadedness, feeling faint
Untreated, a migraine can last for anywhere from 4-72 hours. Women are far more likely to experience attacks lasting longer than 24 hours.2
Migraine patterns vary substantially from person to person in terms of frequency and severity attacks, and what triggers them.
The most significant risk factor for developing migraine is genetic—more than 80% of migraine sufferers have a family history of migraine.1
Anyone who experiences severe or disabling headaches should speak with a physician to determine whether the cause of the headache is migraine.
People who experience severe or disabling headaches should report them to their physician, as headache is a symptom of a variety of conditions, some of which can be serious. Headaches that are not due to migraine will likely require other treatments.
Once your physician has diagnosed your headache as migraine, you can begin treatment. For headaches that seem more complicated or resistant to basic migraine therapies, you may need a referral to a specialist 1:
- Headache Specialist
- Obstetrician/Gynecologist (OB/GYN)
- Pain Management Specialist
- Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT)
- Less than 10% migraine sufferers are appropriately diagnosed and treated with prescription therapies.
- New migraine-focused drug therapies are in development to help those patients who are not getting effective relief, or are not candidates for existing drug therapies.
- Regular visits to your doctor to assess your migraine pattern, responses to treatments, and to provide updates on general health status are important to effective management of migraine over a lifetime.
- Mayo Clinic
- Steiner TJ et al. J Head Pain 2013.