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Migraine Headaches

What is a Migraine?
A migraine is identified by throbbing or aching pain, usually on one side of the head. It is associated with irritability, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting. Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men. Migraines, which often run in families, occur in variable forms.

What Causes Migraines?
Migraine is believed to be a genetic disorder. We don't know precisely what goes on in the body during a migraine attack or what causes it. However, we can identify some changes that appear to occur during an attack.

A trigger-such as a food or stress-can cause a wave of electrical activity to spread over the brain. Either spontaneously or in response to a trigger, the neurotransmitter serotonin can be released. In response, the lining around the brain (called the dura) swells, causing an acute, throbbing pain in the head. Blood flow may be reduced to other organs, such as the stomach, and impair their function. This can lead to some of the symptoms associated with migraines such as nausea or vomiting.

How Do You Diagnose Migraines?
Migraine is diagnosed clinically by history and a thorough medical evaluation. Occasionally, diagnostic testing such as X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans are done to rule out other causes of headaches.

What is the Treatment for Migraines?
Migraines are a chronic condition with no known cure. Treatment can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines, but no single treatment works for everyone. Migraines can be successfully managed with medications or non-medication therapies. Medications either abort the migraine or prevent them from occurring. Frequently, both types of management are used.

Non-medication treatments attempt to minimize triggers that increase migraine incidence. Triggers, which vary by individual, could be dietary, environmental, physical, emotional and medication factors.

Relaxation exercises, yoga, stress management, psychotherapy, biofeedback and aerobic exercise also can be part of a migraine management plan.

Minnesota Headache Center
A service of Noran Neurology