How To Tell If You Have A Migraine

Did you know that migraine headaches are the third most common illness in the world? Consequently, migraines are also one of the most common reasons why people seek healthcare treatment. The World Health Organization estimates up to 75% of the world’s population has suffered from a headache within the past year. It is important to understand the symptoms that make migraine headaches different from other headaches.

What Is A Migraine?

A migraine headache is a severe, debilitating neurological disease that prevents sufferers from functioning normally during times of an attack. It is more than just a severe headache; it is a recurrent pain that lasts from several hours up to three days with accompanying neurological signs. The pain is described as severe throbbing or pulsing on one side of the head. Additionally, sufferers commonly complain of nausea, light sensitivity, or sound sensitivity before or during the constant headache.

What Are the Symptoms of a Migraine?

Migraine headaches occur in four stages. Some people may not go through every stage with each migraine. Migraine triggers include stress, sudden changes in weather, changes in sleep patterns, and even changes in eating habits. Risk factors for developing migraines include female gender, family history of migraines, and environmental factors such as exposure to noxious odors.

Prodrome (early signs of migraine)

Prodrome starts up to 24 hours before the migraine symptoms occur. This may include subtle changes in the body, such as constipation, unexplained changes in mood, food cravings, and excessive yawning. This is commonly called the “pre-headache”.

Migraine Aura

About 25% of people who suffer from migraines will also have migraine aura. An aura is a reversible sensory symptom of the nervous system. Auras can occur during or after the migraine and last up to 60 minutes. They can include:

  • Seeing shapes, spots, or flashes of light
  • Temporary loss in vision
  • Hearing noises or music in a quiet room
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Numbness and tingling anywhere on the body
  • Facial weakness


The headache starts gradually and increases in intensity. Migraine headaches will last between 4 to 72 hours. Migraines are recurrent, meaning they will usually happen several times a month. Accompanying symptoms include:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Severe throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to smell and sometimes touch

Postdrome (immediately following the migraine)

The postdrome occurs after the throbbing pain goes away. Most people feel drained, exhausted, or even confused after a migraine. Any sudden movements during this phase will make the migraine return.

Different Types of Migraines

There are several subtypes of migraines, with features that are slightly different from what was discussed above. These include retinal migraines, menstrual migraines, and chronic migraines.

Menstrual Migraines

Menstrual migraines occur two days before or up to three days after a woman's menstrual cycle. This migraine is triggered by a drop in levels of the hormone estrogen during this time. 60% of women who have migraines will also have menstrual migraines. Treatment for women with menstrual migraines without aura includes estrogen supplementation to be used during the menstrual week to prevent the natural estrogen drop that sets off menstrual migraines.Women on combination estrogen/progestin contraceptives can simply take these hormones continuously, i.e., during the placebo week to prevent menstrual migraines.

Retinal Migraines

Retinal migraines, also called ocular migraines, are a rare migraine condition that is associated with temporary blindness in one or both eyes for up to one hour. This temporary blindness may occur during or right after the headache. This requires immediate evaluation by a healthcare professional to rule out other life-threatening conditions.

Chronic Migraines

Chronic migraines are migraine headaches that occur 15 or more days per month over a three month period. These headaches are especially debilitating and interfere with daily living. People who suffer from chronic migraines also have other health conditions such as fatigue, depression, and anxiety.

Distinguishing a Migraine From Other Types of Headaches

Other types of headaches can be mistaken as migraines. Tension headaches are recurrent headaches that can be brought on by stress or lack of sleep. The pain from tension headaches is described as a tight band around the head. The distinguishing factor is that migraine pain is intense pulsing pain that typically occurs on one side.

Cluster headaches are intense headaches that occur on one side of the head. They are associated with eye redness and swelling. Those who suffer from cluster headaches rarely have symptoms of light sensitivity or nausea like migraine sufferers have.

Treating a Migraine

At this time, there is no cure for migraine headaches. There are, however, migraine medications that help to reduce the intensity and frequency of the symptoms. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Excedrin, may be helpful in those who suffer from mild migraine symptoms. For those with severe migraines, over-the-counter treatments may not relieve their symptoms, and they may require prescription medication.

The licensed doctors and nurse practitioners at Alpha Medical are available to help you find relief for your migraines through an online appointment. Sign up today to take control of your migraine headaches.

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