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A migraine headache
is a severe headache. The pain can be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities. A migraine can last a few hours up to several days. The exact cause of migraines is not known.
Common triggers for a migraine include the following:
- Stress, eye strain, oversleeping, or not getting enough sleep
- Hormone changes in women from birth control pills, pregnancy, menopause, or during a monthly period
- Skipping meals, going too long without eating, or not drinking enough liquids
- Certain foods or drinks such as chocolate, hard cheese, red wine, or drinks that contain caffeine
- Foods that contain gluten, nitrates, MSG, or artificial sweeteners
- Sunlight, bright or flashing lights, loud noises, smoke, or strong smells
- Heat, humidity, or changes in the weather
Common warning signs include the following:
Warning signs usually start 15 to 60 minutes before the headache:
- Visual changes (auras), such as blurred vision, temporary blind or bright spots, lines, or hallucinations
- Unusual tiredness or frequent yawning
- Tingling in an arm or leg
Seek care immediately if:
- You have a headache that seems different or much worse than your usual migraine headache.
- You have a severe headache with a fever or a stiff neck.
- You have new problems with speech, vision, balance, or movement.
- You feel like you are going to faint, you become confused, or you have a seizure.
Contact your healthcare provider or neurologist if:
- You have a fever.
- Your migraines interfere with your daily activities.
- Your medicines or treatments stop working.
- You have questions about your condition or care.
Migraines cannot be cured. The goal of treatment is to reduce your symptoms. Take medicine as soon as you feel a migraine begin.
- Prescription pain medicine may be given. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.
- Migraine medicines are used to help prevent a migraine or stop it once it starts.
- Antinausea medicine may be given to calm your stomach and to help prevent vomiting. This medicine can also help relieve pain.
Manage your symptoms:
- Rest in a dark, quiet room. This will help decrease your pain. Sleep may also help relieve the pain.
- Apply ice to decrease pain. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice pack with a towel and place it on your head where it hurts for 15 to 20 minutes every hour.
- Apply heat to decrease pain and muscle spasms. Use a small towel dampened with warm water or a heating pad, or sit in a warm bath. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours. You may alternate heat and ice.
- Keep a migraine record. Write down when your migraines start and stop. Include your symptoms and what you were doing when a migraine began. Record what you ate or drank for 24 hours before the migraine started. Keep track of what you did to treat your migraine and if it worked.
Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:
Bring your migraine record with you. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
Prevent another migraine headache:
- Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can trigger a migraine and also cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can trigger a migraine. It can also interfere with the medicines used to treat your migraine.
- Exercise regularly. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.
- Manage stress. Stress may trigger a migraine. Learn new ways to relax, such as deep breathing.
- Follow a sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruit, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Do not have foods or drinks that trigger your migraines.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.