A migraine is a headache so intense it can cause nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. About 3 times more common in women than in men, migraines can last from 4-72 hours. Nearly 12% of people in the United States experience migraines.
Migraine headaches can be a challenge to diagnose and manage without expert help. Our doctors specialize in offering the leading migraine treatments at The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City.
What is a migraine headache?
Migraines affect 39 million people in the United States and up to a billion people worldwide. These severe headaches are most common among those aged 25-55 and tend to run in families.
More than just a bad headache, a migraine is considered a neurological disease and carries with it serious symptoms. Often, warning signs – like visual disturbances and auras – precede the migraine itself. Migraines can also occur in stages.
Types of migraine
There are several different types of migraine headache.
An abdominal migraine includes severe pain and other migraine symptoms, but in the abdomen instead of the head. Abdominal migraines mainly affect children.
This type of migraine occurs on more than 15 days in any given month and doesn’t typically respond to standard treatments.
Also called hormonal migraines, these migraine attacks coincide with a woman's menstrual cycle.
Migraine with aura includes all the standard symptoms of a migraine along with additional neurological symptoms, such as blind spots, tunnel vision or flashing lights.
The most common type of migraine, accounting for up to 90 percent of migraines.
Some people have migraines that include symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light or sound, yet without the actual headache pain.
In addition to the typical migraine symptoms, vestibular migraines can also include dizzy spells (vertigo).
Migraine symptoms and risks
Properly treating a migraine depends upon accurately diagnosing it. Migraines are different from other headaches. They last longer than 4 hours and include at least 2 of the following:
- Moderate to severe pain
- Pain that's more intense on one side of the head
- Pulsating and/or throbbing
- Symptoms severe enough to cause the avoidance of daily activities
The migraine must also meet 1 of the following criteria:
- Causes intolerance of light and/or sound
- Causes nausea and/or vomiting
Finally, the headache must not be caused by something else. This often presents the greatest challenge. Some red flags suggesting other causes include:
- Headaches in people who have cancer, are pregnant or who are immunocompromised
- Headaches that wake you from sleep, are worse when lying down or are associated with focal neurological signs
- Headaches with high fever
- Pain described as the worst headache of your life
- Sudden onset of headache at age 50 or older
These situations suggest the possibility of a tumor, infection, aneurysm or intracranial hypertension. For these cases, the interdisciplinary approach we practice can be valuable in determining the cause of pain.
Migraine diagnosis and screening
Migraines: An overview
Migraines plague more than 12% of the U.S. population. Learn more about distinguishing migraines from other headaches, how behavior changes may reduce their occurrence and treatment options, including BOTOX, that can provide relief.
Migraine treatments typically focus on either preventing the onset of a migraine, minimizing the effects of a migraine once it’s already occurred or a combination of both. Possible treatments include:
- Injectable medications, like BOTOX®
- Lifestyle changes, such as ensuring a regular sleep schedule or avoiding certain foods that you’ve identified as migraine triggers
- Migraine surgery
- Taking an oral medication every day to prevent the onset of a migraine
- Taking medication at the onset of symptoms to limit the length and severity of your migraine
Depending on your personal history with migraines and the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend one or several of these treatments.