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Migraine Headache

What is a Migraine Headache?

A migraine is much more than a bad headache. A migraine headache is a recurrent, throbbing headache usually felt on one side of the head. Migraines usually begin in early childhood, adolescence, or young adult life. Migraine pain can be excruciating, and may incapacitate you for hours or even days. Migraine headaches may be preceded by a warning sign.

Warning signs of a Migraine Headache

Warning signs of a migraine headache may include: flashes of light, dizziness or numbness. The signs are often accompanied by severe nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

What causes a Migraine Headache?

Migraine headaches are caused by a rapid widening and narrowing of blood vessel walls in the brain and head. This causes the pain fibers in the blood vessel wall to become irritated. Blood vessels in the scalp are often involved. Some of the events that have been reported to causes migraine headaches are: hunger, cheese, changes in weather, nuts, fatigue, avocados, oral contraceptives, chocolate, menstrual periods, food cured with nitrates (e.g., hot dogs), emotional stress, meat tenderizers (e.g., MSG), and alcoholic beverages. It is not known why some individuals have migraines and others do not.

Symptoms a Migraine Headache

Sparkling flashes of light, zigzag lines in your field of vision, weakness, numbness or tingling in your face, hand or leg, difficulty seeing or speaking.

Symptoms may last for 5 to 15 minutes or more. As the symptoms disappear, a throbbing headache begins on one side of the head. The severity of the headache increases. Once the headache becomes very painful, people often experience nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise.

Types of migraines

There are many types of migraine headaches. The two main types are: classic migraine and the common migraine.

  • Classic Migraines

In a classic migraine, there is usually a warning. Eyesight may suddenly change. Bright spots or zigzag lines are seen. Some people experience double vision or temporary, partial blindness. The change is eyesight is often followed by numbness and tingling of the lips, face, hands (on one or both sides), weakness of an arm or leg, dizziness, unsteadiness in walking, drowsiness, slight confusion of thinking, and inability to speak or slurred speech. Some people may have only one or a few of these symptoms, and they tend to occur in the same combination in each attack.

  • Common Migraines

In a common migraine, a throbbing headache begins suddenly without warning. The location of the headache varies. The pain may be on one or both sides of the head. The pain may also shift from side to side. Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise usually accompany the headache. Children who have migraines experience mostly common migraines and do not have any warning. In addition to the headache, some children experience abdominal pain. The abdominal pain gets better after vomiting.

Risks of developing a a Migraine Headache

The two main risks of developing migraines are: if you parents have had them and being a female. If both your parents have or have had migraines, there's a 75 percent chance you will, too. If one parent has or has had migraines, you have a 50 percent chance of developing them

You're also at high risk for migraines if you're young and female. In fact, women are three times more likely to have migraines than men. Headaches typically begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood and often become less frequent and intense as you grow older. Headaches tend to affect boys and girls equally during childhood, but increase in girls after puberty.

Are Migraine Headaches Contagious?

No. You cannot catch a migraine headache from another person.

How long will the a Migraine Headache last?

Migraine headaches can last from a few hours up to several days.

Women and Migraines

Two to three times as many women as men have migraine, perhaps because the fluctuation of hormone levels is a key migraine trigger. The pattern of a woman's migraines may be affected by her menstrual cycle and is often altered when she undergoes menopause. In addition, pregnancy or the use of oral contraceptives may change a woman's migraine symptoms or frequency.

Read a personal story about a person's battle with migraines.

Statistics (Canada)

  • One in five Canadians children suffer from migraines
  • Approximately one-third of sufferers are male and two-thirds female.
  • Migraine occurs most often among people aged twenty to fifty and is frequently considered to be an inherited disorder.

Statistics (United States)

  • More than 157,000,000 workdays are lost each year due to migraines
  • 60% of people who have migraines have one or more severe attacks each month
  • About 26,000,000 Americans have migraines, of those 11,000,000 suffer moderate to severe migraines that are disabling.

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