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Migraine Headaches


Updated March 29, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Migraine headaches are common, affecting nearly 30 million people a year. According to some statistics, about 25 percent of women and almost 10 percent of men experience debilitating migraines. With so many people being affected by migraines it is worth the time to understand a little bit more about them.

What Is a Migraine

Migraines are one of the primary headache types - headaches that are not a result of an underlying medical condition. The cause of migraines is still not clear, but scientists believe that it may have something to do with nerve dysfunction. They can be brought on by a number of triggers, such as certain foods, alcohol or tobacco, some medications, and hormonal changes. Migraines tend to affect women more than men and seem to have some genetic basis (i.e., they run in families.)

What to Expect During a Migraine

As with most medical conditions, every person may experience migraines quite differently, but there are some common symptoms. Migraines have been divided into four separate phases. A migraine sufferer may experience one or more of these situations during an attack. These four phases are premonitory symptoms, aura, headache, and postdrome.

Patients diagnosed with migraines experience at least two of the following:
  • a headache that occurs on one side (unilateral location)
  • throbbing
  • pain that becomes worse with normal activity
  • intensity rangeing from moderate to severe
In addition, patients must have at least one of the following: Health care practitioners should use these criteria to determine if you are experiencing a migraine or different type of headache. Distinguishing migraines from other headaches is important in providing effective treatments.

Migraines can often be preceded by an aura, visual changes or other symptoms that occur less than an hour before the migraine actually hits. These symptoms are usually neurological in nature, such as visual loss, speech difficulties, numbness, weakness in one side of the body, and the like.

Read More: Treating Migraines

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  5. Migraine Headaches - Basics About Migraine Headaches

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