Although migraine is classified as a headache, it’s unlike any other type of head pain. That’s because migraine is a neurological condition that produces intense pain and other symptoms that can last up to several days.
“If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know it’s not your everyday type of headache,” says Carisa Liew, D.O., a Neurology specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center.
So how do you know if you just have a horrible headache or are suffering from migraine?
Symptoms of Migraine Headaches
Unlike other headaches, migraines tend to occur in one part of the head, and the pain will throb or pulse. With tension and other types of headaches, the pain usually develops in the forehead or top of the head and is a dull, aching pain. Sinus headaches cause pain behind the eyes and cheeks.
While migraines usually happen on one side of the head, they can affect both sides or the back of the head. The pain usually lasts at least four hours and can persist for days. However, the tell-tale signs of migraine aren’t experienced with any other type of head pain.
While not everyone with migraine experiences the same symptoms with each attack, the symptoms exclusive to migraine headaches can include:
- Seeing spots or flashing lights (aura)
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Temporary vision loss
- Nausea or vomiting
Types of Migraine and Warning Signs
You may have heard migraine sufferers describe seeing flashing lights or spots when they’re about to have an attack. This is called migraine with aura. Approximately 10 to 30 minutes prior to the attack, people are warned of the oncoming migraine by visual disturbances, as well as tingling or numbness in the face or hands.
Not everyone who has migraines experiences aura, and migraine without aura can come on suddenly. But some people do notice warning signs that a migraine attack is on the horizon. These may include:
- Unusual food cravings
- Stiffness in the neck
- Excessive yawning
What Causes Migraine?
“There’s still much to be studied and understood about what makes migraines happen,” says Dr. Liew, “but there is a good deal of evidence to suggest it’s largely an inherited condition.”
By studying migraine sufferers, some common triggers have been identified, although these are not experienced by everyone. Many people report that the following factors seem to contribute to their migraine attacks:
- Anxiety and stress
- Being around bright lights or loud noise
- Consuming alcohol or caffeine
- Eating certain foods
- Getting too much or too little sleep
- Hormonal changes, menstruation, or menopause
- Using hormonal contraceptives
If you haven’t already been diagnosed with migraine, Dr. Liew suggests visiting your primary care doctor or a neurologist if you experience intense headaches along with other symptoms of migraine.
“Particularly if you have symptoms of migraine with aura,” she says, “it’s a good idea to see your doctor to rule out other, more serious conditions that can also present with vision changes and intense head pain.”
To make an appointment with Dr. Liew or another Kelsey-Seybold physician, call our 24/7 Contact Center at 713-442-0000.