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Migraine Headaches: Common Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options

Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 households in the United States has someone that suffers from migraine headaches? A staggering 12% of the population, approximately 38 million people, suffers from this condition in the United States. Let’s take a closer look at symptoms of a migraine headache and how this differs from a “normal headache” or tension headache.

Migraine Versus Tension Headache

What is a migraine headache and how is it different from a “normal headache” or tension headache? Tension headaches are very common; they are often triggered by dehydration, stress or lack of sleep. They resolve with rest, time, exercise and over the counter medications like acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications.  Common symptoms of tension headache are:

  • Lasts from 30 minutes to 7 days
  • Bilateral, or affecting both sides of the head
  • Dull aching head pain
  • Mild to moderate pain intensity
  • No nausea or vomiting
  • No sensitivity to light/sound
  • Not aggravated by routine physical activity

What Causes a Migraine?

Migraine headaches are different. Migraine headaches are considered a neurological disease that typically present with severe throbbing pain that can be associated with sensitivity to light, sound and sometimes visual disturbances called auras. Migraines can be triggered by a number of different things and may be different for each migraine suffer. Triggers can include stress, lack of sleep, alcohol, caffeine or even changes in hormones like around menstruation for women. These types of headaches can be very debilitating and can result in lost time away from family, friends and work. Common symptoms of migraine headache:

  • Lasts from 4-72 hours
  • Usually unilateral, or affecting one side of the head
  • Pulsating sensation
  • Moderate to severe pain in intensity
  • Often associated with nausea or vomiting
  • Often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Can be accompanied by visual disturbances called auras
  • Aggravated by physical activity

It is important for migraine suffers to seek treatment for this condition not only because it can cause significant debilitating symptoms, but studies do show a slight increase in risk of blood clot and stroke in individuals that suffer from migraines with aura.

Will Migraine Medicine Help?

Treatment options for migraine headaches should be personalized based on your unique health background, number of migraines you have over the course of the year and your overall treatment goals. It is important to speak to your health care provider if you think you may be suffering from migraine headaches so that they can work with you to get you on the path to wellness.

Kathryn Moreland, MD

Kathryn J Moreland, MD is an Obstetrics and Gynecology provider at CHI Health.

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