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Migraine Headache: Brief Version

What is a migraine headache?

A migraine headache is a kind of headache that can last for hours or days. It may cause intense pain. You may also feel sick to your stomach or have problems with your vision just before or during the headache.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of migraines is not known. They may be caused by a problem with blood flow in your brain. Or they may happen with changes in chemicals in your brain.

You are more likely to get a migraine when:

  • You are tired or under stress.
  • You eat some kinds of foods, such as wine, cheese, or chocolate, or chemicals added to foods, such as MSG.
  • The weather changes.
  • You are around bright lights.

Women are more likely to have migraines than men. Sometimes the headaches happen around the time a woman has her period. Or they may happen when a woman is taking hormone pills. Migraines can run in families.

What are the symptoms?

Before a migraine starts, you may:

  • Not feel well.
  • Lose part of your vision or see bright spots or zigzags

When you have a migraine, you may:

  • Have a headache that throbs or pounds.
  • Be very sensitive to light.
  • Feel sick to your stomach.

How is it treated?

  • You may be able to stop mild migraine headaches by taking nonprescription pain-relief medicine like aspirin, acetaminophen, caffeine, or ibuprofen. A mix of medicines might work best. Check with your healthcare provider before you give medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. There is a risk that they could get a serious illness called Reye's syndrome. Also, aspirin and ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding, kidney problems, and other problems. Take the medicine as directed.
  • Your healthcare provider may prescribe 2 different kinds of medicine for you. You may have medicine to stop the pain. You may have another medicine to take every day to try to keep from having headaches.
  • You may need to try your medicine for several weeks to see if it works. There are several medicines you can try to see if they prevent your headaches. Be sure to keep your follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider. Let him or her know how the medicine is working for you. If it’s not working well, you can try a different one. This will help you find what works best for you.

How long will it last?

The headache may last from a few hours to a few days. You may get migraines for the rest of your life. You may find that you have them less often as you get older.

How can I take care of myself?

When you have a migraine:

  • Take medicine for the headache. Ask your healthcare provider what medicine you should take.
  • Rest in a quiet, dark room until the headache is gone.
  • Don't drive a car when you have the headache.

See your healthcare provider if your headaches get worse or if they don't get better when you take medicine for them. It may take several visits to find the best way to control your headaches.

Call your healthcare provider RIGHT AWAY if you have symptoms that you don’t usually have with migraines, such as:

  • You have a hard time talking or your speech is slurred.
  • Your arm or leg is weak.

Call your provider RIGHT AWAY if you have other symptoms, such as:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your neck is stiff.
  • You keep vomiting for several hours.
  • You have numbness or tingling in your face, arms, or legs.

How can I prevent migraines?

  • Eat regular, healthy meals. Don't go too long without eating. Stay away from foods that seem to cause your headaches, like wine, beer, cheese, or hot dogs. Ask your healthcare provider if there are other things you should avoid.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Get enough rest and exercise.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-06-28
Last reviewed: 2011-06-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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