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 red 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 for a brief time 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. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • 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 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.

Ask your provider what symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them.

How can I help prevent migraines?

  • Stay away from foods that seem to cause your headaches, like wine, beer, or cheese. Ask your healthcare provider if there are other things you should avoid.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Get enough rest and exercise and don’t skip meals.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-05-07
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.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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