Migraine Headache: Symptoms and Causes

A migraine is a primary headache disorder in which you have recurrent headaches that are moderate to severe. It is a a pulsing sensation which affects one half of the head and last from hours to days.

Updated: August 17, 2020

A migraine is a primary headache disorder in which you have recurrent headaches that are moderate to severe. It is a pulsing sensation that affects one half of the head and lasts from hours to days. But in some cases, patients may experience pain bilaterally or on both sides. A migraine headache is the result of specific physiologic changes that occur within the brain and lead to severe pain with associated symptoms of nausea or vomiting.

Symptoms of Migraines:

Migraines often begin in adolescence, childhood, or early adulthood. Migraines usually progress through four stages known as prodrome, aura, headache, and post-drome. It is not necessary that you will experience all stages.

Prodrome:

One or two days before a migraine starts you may experience some warning sign and symptoms which include:

  • Mood changes, from depression to euphoria
  • Food cravings
  • Neck stiffness
  • Constipation
  • Frequent yawning
  • Increased thirst and urination

Aura:

The aura may occur before or during migraines. Auras are symptoms of the nervous system. The symptoms may be of visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or wavy, zigzag vision. The symptoms usually begin gradually, build up over several minutes, and lasts for 20 to 60 minutes. The sign and symptoms include:

  • Vision loss
  • Seeing various shapes, bright spots or flashes of light
  • Weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body
  • Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
  • Hearing noises or music
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Uncontrollable jerking or other movements
  • Most people experience migraines without aura.

Headache:

Headaches can be moderate to severe and last from 2 to 72 hours if untreated. The sign and symptoms include:

  • Pain that feels throbbing or pulsing
  • Pain on one side or either side of your head
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, and sometimes smells and touch
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting

Post-drome:

The final phase known as post-drome occurs after a migraine attack. You may feel drained and washed out and experience the symptoms for 24 hours after the attack.

The sign and symptoms include:

  • Moodiness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Confusion

Causes of Migraines:

  • Migraines may be due to fluctuations in certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that send messages between brain cells. Genetics and environmental factors also play a role in causing migraines.
  • There is often a strong family history of migraine in patients with this disorder.
  • Serotonin is a brain chemical that helps regulate pain in your nervous system. During migraine attacks, the level of serotonin drops causing your trigeminal nerve to release substances called neuropeptides. When neuropeptides travel to your brain's outer covering, this results in migraine pain. 


Migraine Triggers:

Factors that may trigger migraines include:

Hormonal changes in women:

Because of a major drop in estrogen level before or during menstruation, women with a history of migraines often complain of headaches. Fluctuations in estrogen levels seem to trigger headaches in many women. Some women have an increased tendency to develop migraines during pregnancy or menopause. Hormonal medications such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy can also affect migraines.

Foods:

Salty foods and processed foods may trigger migraines. Fasting or skipping meals can also worsen migraines.

Drinks:

Alcohol and caffeinated beverages may trigger migraines.

Food additives:

The sweetener aspartame and the preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG) which are found in many foods may trigger migraines.

Sensory stimuli:

Bright lights, sun glare, and loud sounds can be cause migraines to develop. Strong smells including perfume, paint thinner and smoke can trigger migraines in some people.

Stress:

Stress at work or home is another major cause of migraines.

Physical activities:

Intense physical activities including sexual activity may trigger migraines.

Changes in the wake-sleep pattern:

Not getting enough sleep, missing sleep such as jet lag, or getting too much sleep may trigger migraines in some people.

Changes in the environment:

A change of weather or barometric pressure can trigger a migraine.

Medications:

Oral contraceptives and vasodilators such as nitroglycerin can be a cause of migraines.


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