What is Migraine?
Migraine is more than a headache. It’s a progressive neurological disease characterized by its recurrent attacks of moderate to severe headache
pain. Although experiences may differ from person to person, the majority of people tend to experience throbbing head pain, nausea, vomiting
and sensitivity to light and sound. Those who have four or more headache days per month may be at risk for progression to chronic migraine.
Approximately 36 million Americans live with migraine. Migraine often begins affecting individuals around puberty, and women are three times
more likely to have it than men. In fact, migraine will affect 30% of women over their lifetimes.
While most people living with migraine experience migraine attacks only once or twice a month, over four million people in the U.S. live with
chronic migraine, suffering at least 15 migraine days per month. Migraine is considered one of the most burdensome among all neurological
diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) places migraine in the top 10 most disabling disorders on the planet.
Key Terms and Definitions
As you continue learning about the inner workings of migraine, it can be helpful to know common terms and definitions. And if you’re living
with migraine, speaking the language that healthcare professionals use may help you better understand and describe your symptoms.
Overview of Common Triggers
Many things can lead to the onset of a migraine attack. When it comes to triggers, everyone is different. But some triggers — like stress, fatigue
and alcohol — are more common than others. By better understanding what could prompt an attack, you can better manage living with migraine.
Living with migraine
Some of the most common triggers include:
Pay attention to and manage your stress levels. Try relaxation and breathing exercises.
Don’t skip meals, and make sure you eat regularly. Know which foods may be triggers, and strive for balanced meals that help keep blood sugar levels even.
Bright light and abrasive sounds can potentially induce a migraine attack. Protect your eyes with sunglasses or a hat and steer clear of loud, abrupt or harsh noises.
Stay in tune with hormonal changes. For women living with migraine, up to 60% of their symptoms can be menstrual-related.
Shifts in barometric pressure and humidity are two common environmental triggers.
For a more in-depth look at migraine triggers and tips to manage them, visit our Identifying and Managing Your Triggers section.
See all common triggers
Because everyone’s experience with migraine is different, finding the right treatment remains a challenge. Talking with your doctor is important. The more involved you become in understanding how you’re affected, the more likely you are to better manage migraine.
There are two common approaches to the treatment of migraine: prevention and relief.
Prevention: Lessening frequency and severity
Prevention methods are considered if you experience migraine frequently – more than four headache days per month – or if attacks last more than 12 hours. As the name suggests, the goal of preventive treatment is to lessen the frequency and severity of your migraine before it starts.
Some preventive options include:
- Beta-blockers (medications used to treat high blood pressure)
- Antidepressants (medications prescribed to treat forms of depression)
- Anti-seizure medications (prescription drugs used in the treatment of epilepsy and seizures)
- Nontraditional supplements (herbs, vitamins and minerals)
- Behavioral treatments (meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, trigger avoidance)
- Acupuncture (thin needles inserted into the skin at defined points around the body)
- In office injection (medication administered by specialist to head and neck)
Your doctor is the best person to help determine the right preventive treatment plan for you.
Relief: Reducing pain at the first sign of migraine
Also known as acute treatment, relief treatment is designed to stop or relieve migraine during the onset of an attack. This approach is typically used as soon as you begin experiencing signs or symptoms. It’s important to note that if taken too often, relief medications could lead to what’s called a rebound headache. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re using these treatments frequently or over long periods of time.
Some common relief options include:
- Analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen)
- Relaxation techniques (breathing exercises, meditation and more)
- Triptans (make blood vessels restrict and block pain pathways to the brain)
- Ergots (ergotamine, dihydroergotamine)
- Anti-nausea medications (medications to treat nausea)
Overall, the successful management of migraine requires talking with your doctor about how triggers and symptoms impact your daily life. Ongoing communication with your healthcare provider can help you identify short- and long-term goals, ultimately leading to the treatment plan that’s right for you.
Talk to your doctor