What is a migraine? Why migraine happens. Who gets migraines? Treating migraines.

The Mother of All Headaches

A Migraine is a chronic, neurological condition associated with recurrent attacks. Severe headache is the most striking symptom of a migraine, but it surprises many to learn that migraines can strike without any accompanying head pain.

One-Sided Head Pain

Throbbing or pounding head pain is typical of migraines and is found most often on one side of the head or temple, though the side affected varies from one attack to the next. In fact, should the same side of the head be affected during subsequent bouts, the headaches may be secondary to a brain tumor, rather than symptomatic of migraine.

Triggers and Warning Signs

There is often an aggravating factor that acts as a trigger for migraines and sufferers may, with time, identify their common triggers. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, facial pallor, cold hands and feet, and sensitivity to light and sound are common symptoms that may accompany a migraine. During an attack, a migraine sufferer will prefer a quiet, dark room, and will want to lie down. An attack will last anywhere from four hours to three days.

40-60% of all migraine headaches come with a bit of a warning. Premonitory symptoms can last a few hours or days and can include cravings for sweet or salty foods, depression, euphoria, fatigue, irritability, and sleepiness. Just as they come to recognize their triggers, migraine sufferers learns to spot the signs that a migraine attack is about to start.

In 20% of migraine headaches, sufferers will experience an aura. Auras preceded or accompany the headache, and often consist of visual disturbances. A sufferer may see a zigzag pattern of flashing lights in bright colors that start in the center of his visual field with an outward progression. Another common visual disturbance is a blind spot or scotoma. Elderly and some other migraine sufferers may experience only visual aura with no resultant headache.

Sometimes an aura consists of a pins and needles sensation on one side of the body in the hand, arm, mouth, or nose. There are also auditory or hearing auras and auras that affect taste or smell.

Complicated migraines manifest with neurological dysfunction depending on the location of the brain in which the migraine originates. Vertebrobasilar migraines originate in the brainstem; the part responsible for automatic responses like consciousness and balance. Symptoms of vertebrobasilar migraines include fainting as an aura, a dizzy, spinning sensation called vertigo, and double vision.

Hemiplegic migraines may be associated with temporary symptoms that mimic a stroke, such as paralysis or a weakness on one side. These symptoms may last for days.

The day after a migraine, a sufferer may feel drained, have a mild headache, and retain sensitivity to light and sound. The migraine may recur during this period.