Migraines – Much more than just severe headaches

A migraine headache is a pulsating pain that usually affects one or both sides of the head. This excruciating pain is made worse by physical activity and is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to sounds, light, and or odors. Migraines generally progress through four stages, comprising prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome. However, one may not experience all four stages.

Migraines can result from lack of sleep, hunger, changes in weather, excessive stimulation of the senses, stress, or other factors. Though incurable, drugs are available to relieve pain and reduce the frequency and intensity of attacks. More common among women, migraines occur periodically and generally become less severe after age 50. Migraines tend to become chronic, particularly in those people who have a history of excessive drug usage for treating the problem.

Causes of Migraines:

Migraines occur more among people who have a sensitive nervous system. Along with the electrical activity that spreads across the brain, various functions, such as vision, balance, muscle coordination, speech, and sensation are temporarily disturbed. These disturbances cause the symptoms that occur before the headache (called the aura).

Estrogen, a female hormone, appears to trigger migraines, hence the reason for the higher incidence among women. Oral contraceptives with estrogen and estrogen therapy may make migraines worse.

Related Read: Migraines: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Other triggers include:

a) Lack of sleep (insomnia)
b) Changes in the weather
c) Red wine
d) Certain foods
e) Hunger (when meals are skipped)
f) Excessive sense stimulation
g) Stress
h) Head injuries, neck pain, or a problem with the joint of the jaw

A prodrome often occurs before a migraine. The prodrome comprises sensations that warn people that an attack is imminent. These sensations may include mood changes, loss of appetite, and nausea. Migraines usually become less severe as people age.

Types of Migraines:

Classic migraines:

Classic migraines start with a warning sign, called an aura. One may see flashing lights, a pattern of lines, colors, or shadows. He/She may temporarily lose some of the vision, like the side vision. One might experience a strange prickly or burning sensation, or muscle weakness on one side of the body. The patient may find it difficult to communicate. He/She may also feel depressed, irritable, and restless. The pain of classic migraines may occur either on one side of the head or on both sides.

Common migraines:

Common migraines do not start with an aura. These “migraines without aura” start slowly as classic migraines, last longer, and tend to interfere more with daily activities. The pain of common migraines may be on only one side of your head.

You may have a “premonition” several hours to a day before your headache starts. Premonitions are feelings that can signal an impending migraine. These feelings include intense energy, thirst, fatigue, and food cravings accompanied by mood changes.


Examples of medicines used for preventing migraines include certain antidepressants, cardiovascular drugs, anti-seizure medicines, and botox injections including leaf and root extracts of the butterbur and feverfew plants. Supplements (Riboflavin, Magnesium, Ginkgolide B, Coq10, Omega-3) have been shown to benefit migraine sufferers.

Some of the other helpful methods include:

CranioSacral Therapy: CranioSacral Therapy is a form of treatment that can be quite effective in treating migraine headaches.

Heat & Cold Therapy: Applying hot & cold compresses to the head or neck can relieve pain & tension.
Homeopathy: The SNRA molecule, delivered in small doses has also been shown to be fast-acting in providing migraine relief.
Essential Oils: Lavender oil is one of the best for migraine pain management.

What else can I do to prevent migraines?

a) Eat regularly and do not skip meals.
b) Have a regular sleep schedule.
c) Exercise regularly as obesity can cause migraines.
d) Maintain a headache diary to enable you to monitor your migraine triggers including details of treatments that are helpful.


Migraines cannot be cured, but they can be controlled. Elimination of triggers and behavioral interventions (relaxation, biofeedback, and stress management) are some of the ways of controlling migraines. Migraines are treated using prophylactic or preventive medicines and abortive medication which stops the headache from becoming severe.

Written by MedPlus