What is a migraine headache? It's one of the most common symptoms of a disease known as migraine. And it's at this point that it's the most misunderstood.
A migraine headache is not the same thing as migraine. Of those that have migraine attacks, most do get headaches, but not everyone. Yes, it's possible to have a migraine attack with no headache at all. And it's also possible to have a headache - a very bad headache - a debilitating headache - and not have migraine at all.
A bad headache that isn't migraine?
The most common type of headache is the tension headache. Usually tension headaches won't land you in bed, but it is possible. There are many other types of headache that can be incredibly painful. A cluster headache, for example, is a different type of pain but often considered to be far worse than a migraine headache. There's also the thunderclap headache, and many others that are unbelievably painful. There are also headaches that come from other problems in the body, such as a tumor or bleeding or a strike to the head itself.
If you have a severe headache, it may not be migraine. If you're having new headache symptoms, you need to make sure you see your doctor right away
- you may need immediate medical attention.
A migraine without a headache?
Yes, people with migraine sometimes have no headaches at all. Some only have visual disturbances, dizziness, or vertigo. Others have stomach pain instead of head pain. Others experience extreme nausea. Even without headache, migraine can incapacitate someone.
Most commonly, migraine does include headache, as well as nausea, and sensitivity to light and/or sound. There are many other symptoms that are less common. A visual "aura", extreme skin sensitivity, behavioral changes, and numbness are a few examples.
What is a migraine headache like?
Migraine headache usually doesn't come by itself, it comes with other symptoms like the ones above. But the headaches are also distinct in some ways. Unlike the tight, steady ache usually associated with a tension headache, migraine headaches are most often a throbbing pain. They make you want to avoid activity. They're also usually (though not always) one-sided. The pain is mostly on one side of the temple, although the side may change throughout the migraine attack. Migraine attacks usually lasts between 4 hours and 3 days, and then goes away (as compared to sinus headache, which gradually gets worse over a period of time, and doesn't go away so quickly).
Migraine headache is usually moderate to severe. Quite often a person with a migraine will be completely disabled.
How are migraine headaches treated?
Migraine disease is something very different from a tension headache. Though we don't fully understand the cause of migraine, it's generally agreed that it's a genetically based neurological disease. This means that it has to do with the neurological messages in the body - the way the brain works and the way chemicals send pain messages to the brain. So the treatment of migraine, including the headache, is usually different from the tension headache.The best treatment specifically targets migraine disease, and not just the headache.
Still, if the pain is the main symptom and it isn't too severe, your doctor may recommend an aspirin, ibuprofen (such as Advil) or tylenol when you get a migraine headache.
Read more about the pros and cons of migraine headache medication
There are a number of other approaches. Some involve lifestyle changes, such as avoiding things that seem to bring on a migraine attack ("triggers"), getting consistent rest, or a healthy diet. Sometimes chiropractic treatment
is helpful. Certain supplements help many migraineurs, including feverfew
, and combinations of several things in one dose, such as MigreLief
. MigreLief is an example of a supplement that specifically targets migraine. It's a preventative that is taken daily to cut down on the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.
Over the past few years a number of migraine targeted drugs have been developed. Ergotamine drugs were for a long time the main migraine specific drug, and they still help many people. The more recent Triptan class of drugs are probably the most well known and widely helpful migraine abortive (to be taken after an attack begins). Read more about common abortives for migraine here
Wanting more info? This site is packed with more. Find out the basics of migraine here, and what we know about its cause. Learn more about the symptoms of migraine, and what can trigger an attack.
You can read a brief summary of migraine headache and its treatment at the National Headache Foundation site.
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