What is a migraine headache?

Recent scientific evidence suggests that migraine headaches begin with a release of proteins by nerve endings in the fibrous outer covering of the brain (called the dura mater) resulting in the dilation of the cranial blood vessels following an initial contraction. During a migraine, inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain exacerbates the pain.

Unlike most other types of headache, migraines may have many additional symptoms. Migraines are sometimes preceded by visual auras. Following the onset of a migraine attack, symptoms may include throbbing, nausea, sensitivity to light and/or sound, difficulty in speech and semi-hemispheric head pain. A migraine attack can last for hours or days. Approximately 3 out of 4 migraine sufferers are female and both the etiology and incidence of migraine attacks vary with the individual.

What causes migraine headaches?

Migraines may be caused by a number of things. Frequently the cause is unknown, but triggers may include stress, anxiety, depression, particular foods or alcohol. Hormones are also common triggers – many women experience migraines with changes in their estrogen levels during menstruation.

How many people are affected by migraine headaches?

It is estimated that 32 million Americans, or nearly 12% of the population, suffer from migraine headaches. According to the American Council for Headache Education nearly 3% of all men and upwards of 9% of all women suffer from migraine headaches.

Is a migraine headache simply a severe headache?

No. There are other forms of headaches such as tension headaches, which may actually be as severe as some migraines. The following symptoms may accompany migraine headache:

  1. Intense pain, frequently throbbing, sometimes localized on one side of the head
  2. Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  3. Sensitivity to noise
  4. Nausea
  5. Vomiting
  6. Disturbed vision
  7. Slurred speech

Some of these symptoms may also be indicative of other more serious conditions. If you are not certain that you are a migraine sufferer consult your physician.

Are there different types of migraine?

The two most prevalent types of migraine headache are migraines with aura and migraine without aura, the latter of the two being more common.

What is a migraine aura?

Most often a migraine aura consists of visual disturbances such as flashing lights, visual distortion, and spots before the eyes.

Is it a migraine or sinus headache?

Migraine headaches are often confused with sinus headaches because migraine pain often occurs in the sinus region. If your headache is caused by sinus blockage, such as an infection, you will probably have a fever or nasal discharge.