Symptoms & Diagnosis
Although many people use the term “migraine” to describe any severe headache, a migraine headache is the result of specific physiologic changes that occur within the brain and lead to the characteristic pain and associated symptoms of a migraine.
Migraine headaches are usually associated with sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. In addition, many patients experience nausea or vomiting. The headache of a migraine often involves only one side of the head but in some cases, patients may experience pain bilaterally or on both sides. The pain of a migraine is often described as throbbing or pounding and it may be made worse with physical exertion.
Throbbing pain typically occurs on one side near the temples, forehead, and eyes. Migraines can make you very sensitive to light, sound, or mild exertion, such as climbing the stairs. Many people have nausea, vomiting, or vision problems. The pain can be disabling, forcing people to miss work or other activities.
Useful info and health tips
What triggers migraines?
Many factors have been identified as migraine triggers. The normal hormone fluctuations which occur with regular menstrual cycles may predispose some women to experience migraine headaches. Some types of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) can trigger migraines. Various foods, including red wines, aged cheeses, nitrates (preservatives used in smoked meats), monosodium glutamate, artificial sweeteners, chocolate, and even dairy products have been implicated in triggering migraine headaches in susceptible individuals. Some patients find that oversleeping, stress, or exposure to strong stimuli such as bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells can lead to a migraine headache. Changes in barometric pressure have been described as leading to migraine headaches as well.
Not every individual who has migraines will experience a headache when exposed to these triggers. If a person is unsure what his or her specific triggers might be, maintaining a headache diary can be beneficial to identify those individual factors which lead to migraine.
What are the signs and symptoms of migraines?
The International Headache Society defines episodic migraine as being unilateral, pulsing discomfort of moderate-to-severe intensity, which is aggravated by physical activity and associated with nausea and/or vomiting as well as photophobia and/or phonophobia (sensitivity to light and sound). A migraine headache typically lasts for several hours up to several days.
Many patients describe their headache as a one-sided, pounding type of pain, with symptoms of nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, or smells (known as photophobia, phonophobia, and osmophobia). In some cases, the discomfort may be bilateral. The pain of a migraine is often graded as moderate to severe in intensity. Physical activity or exertion (walking up stairs, rushing to catch a bus or train) will worsen the symptoms.