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Healthgrades Editorial Staff

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a specific type of headache that is severe, persistent, and often occurs in conjunction with other symptoms, such as sensitivity to sound and light.

It is believed that migraines are the result of abnormal brain activity that leads to constriction and subsequent dilation or widening of the arteries in the brain. This process results in the classic symptoms of migraine that include:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Sensory disturbances

  • Severe, throbbing headache that lasts several hours to several days

Migraines are often, but not always, triggered by one or more specific substances or situations. These triggers vary greatly from person to person and commonly include:

  • Alcohol

  • Aged foods such as cheese

  • Caffeine

  • Chocolate

  • Red wine

  • Sudden warm weather

Patient compliance with a good treatment plan can control symptoms of migraine to a degree that allows a person to live a normal, active life. Treatment plans include medications and avoiding substances and situations that can trigger a migraine.

In some cases, migraine headaches can be so severe that they are disabling and result in serious disruption of work, school, relationships, and social activities. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of migraine, such as nausea and vomiting, and a severe, throbbing headache.

Symptoms of migraine can also mimic symptoms of more serious conditions, such as a stroke, meningitis, or retinal detachment. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have a stiff neck and fever or sensory disturbances, such as numbness or vision changes.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 15, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Migraine. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001728/
  2. Migraine Headache. JAMA Patient Page. http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/301/24/2608.full.pdf
  3. NINDS Migraine Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/migraine/migraine.htm
  4. Migraines. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/brain/disorders/127.printerview.html
  5. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
  6. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
  7. Tierney LM Jr., Saint S, Whooley MA (Eds.) Current Essentials of Medicine (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

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