Authored by Revere Health

What is a Migraine?

June 7, 2017 | Family Medicine

A migraine attack causes major pain for hours or even days in some cases, and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting and extreme light and sound sensitivity.

In some cases, symptoms from migraines are so severe that sufferers are temporarily disabled. There are medications that can help with migraines, and prevention methods that can reduce their triggers.


Symptoms, Stages and Complications

Migraines often begin during childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. Not everyone experiences all of these, but there are four possible stages to migraines:

  • Prodrome: This involves subtle changes that may act as warning signs a day or two in advance of a migraine. Changes include constipation, mood alterations (depression or euphoria, in some cases), food cravings, neck stiffness, regular yawning or increased thirst and urination.
  • Aura: These can occur during or before migraines, though most people experience migraines without them. Auras are symptoms of the nervous system—often visual disturbances like flashes of light or zigzag vision, but also potentially touching sensations, or movement or speech disturbances. Some people experience muscle weakness. Vision loss, pins and needles in an arm or leg, numbness or weakness on one side of the body, trouble speaking, hearing noises or music that aren’t there, or uncontrollable movements are common symptoms.
  • Attack: This is the actual migraine itself, and it can come with pain (throbbing or pulsing) on one or both sides of the head, light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision or lightheadedness.
  • Post-drome: This is the final phase, occurring after an attack. It can last for around 24 hours—some people will feel drained, while others might feel elated. Confusion, moodiness, dizziness, weakness and light or sound sensitivity are common symptoms.


If you regularly experience these symptoms, keep a record of your attacks and how they were managed. If symptoms are extreme, see a doctor immediately. Migraines can lead to complications:

  • Chronic migraines: Migraines lasting 15 or more days a month for more than three months.
  • Status migrainosus: Severe migraine attacks lasting longer than three days.
  • Persistent aura without infarction: Usually the aura goes away after an attack, but sometimes it can remain for over a week.
  • Migrainous infarction: Aura symptoms lasting longer than an hour can signal a stroke.
  • Medication issues: There are a few medication use or overuse issues that could result as you try to control migraine pain. Speak to your doctor about these.

Triggers and Risk Factors

Exact causes of migraines aren’t known, though genetics and environmental factors play a role. Brainstem interactions, brain chemical imbalances and neurotransmitters may also be involved.

There are several factors that can trigger migraines, however:


  • Hormone changes in women
  • Foods and additives: Aged cheeses and salty or processed foods, or additives like sweeteners or MSG. Also, skipping meals or fasting can be a trigger
  • Drinks: Alcohol (particularly wine) and beverages high in caffeine
  • Stress
  • Sensory stimuli: Bright lights, sun glare, loud sounds and strong smells
  • Waking and sleeping patterns: Big changes here can trigger migraines, as can jet lag
  • Physical exertion, including sexual activity
  • Weather or pressure changes
  • Medications: Oral contraceptives and vasodilators can aggravate migraines


Factors that may raise your risk of migraines include:


  • Family history
  • Age: Migraines can start at any age, but they most commonly begin during adolescence and peak during the 30s – becoming less severe from there
  • Gender: Women are three times more likely to have migraines
  • Hormone changes in women: Migraines may begin before or shortly after menstruation, or may change during pregnancy or menopause


Treatment and Prevention

The goal of migraine treatments is to help stop symptoms and prevent future attacks. Medications fall into two categories: Pain-relieving medications and preventive medications. Various forms of alternative medicine and lifestyle methods may also be effective – speak to your doctor about this.

There are also several tactics you can take to help reduce the number and severity of migraines:


  • t-SNS: This is a device standing for transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation. It’s similar to a headband with attached electrodes, and was recently approved by the FDA as preventive therapy for migraines. Research showed that people who used it experienced fewer migraines.  
  • Coping: A strategy called learning to cope (LTC) can help prevent migraines. It involves gradual exposure to triggers to help desensitize you to them. It can be combined with cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Consistent schedule: A regular daily routine that helps control stress can go a long way.
  • Exercise: Regular aerobic exercise can reduce tension and help you lose weight, and prevent migraines. Be sure to warm up slowly, as sudden and intense exercise can be a trigger.
  • Estrogen: For women who have migraines that seem to be triggered or worsened by estrogen, reducing or eliminating these medications might be the right move.


If you’re experiencing the symptoms of migraines, speak to your doctor about options and he or she will recommend treatment based on your specific diagnosis.


Schedule an appointment with a Revere Health Internal Medicine provider today!



“Migraine.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Migraines & Headaches Health Center.” WebMD.



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