Do you experience chronic headaches? Do you want to confirm whether your constant headache is a migraine headache? This guide answers every question you’ve ever had about migraine headache symptoms, migraine stages, what causes migraines, how long migraines last, and migraine treatment, and how to talk to your doctor about migraines.
What is a Migraine?
A migraine headache is a neurological condition characterised by an intense, constant headache, nausea, vomiting, and a strong sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraine Headache Symptoms and Stages
Migraines typically have four stages, though some migraine sufferers may skip a stage.
Migraine stages include the prodrome stage, aura stage, migraine attack stage, and postdrome stage.
Prodrome stage: Pre-migraine symptoms
Symptoms of this stage include:
- Food cravings
- Fatigue or low energy
- Frequent yawning
- Neck stiffness
Migraine aura stage
Migraine auras are warning signs that may occur before you experience a migraine. Examples of migraine aura include:
- Visual phenomena in one eye, such as seeing shapes, bright spots or flashes of light
- Temporary blind spots or vision loss
- Double vision (diplopia)
- Sensory problems of the body, face, or tongue, such as numbness or tingling
- Changes in smell
- Tinnitus, ringing in the ears or diminished power of hearing
- Pins and needles sensations in the limbs
- Physical weakness or difficulty with moving (lasting up to 72 hours)
- Inability to control body movements (ataxia)
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Difficulty with speaking or dysarthria (unclear speech)
- Hearing noises or music
Symptoms usually begin gradually, build up over several minutes and last for 20 to 60 minutes.
Migraine attack stage
The migraine headache may occur on only one side of the head. The pulsating or throbbing pain is moderate to severe and may worsen with movements such as walking or climbing stairs. The headache may make the individual sensitive to light or sound. It may also be accompanied by nausea, with or without vomiting or diarrhoea.
During the postdrome stage, you may feel extremely fatigued and apathetic, or euphoric and happy. A mild headache may persist.
These migraine stages may vary in length and intensity for different people.
How Long Do Migraines Last?
Migraines typically last between 4 and 72 hours, or roughly 1-3 days. The frequency of a migraine attack varies from person to person. Migraines might occur rarely or strike multiple times in a month.
Migraine Triggers: What Causes Migraines?
Although there is not yet a definitive cause for migraines, researchers have noted that changes in brain chemicals, such as a decrease in the brain chemical serotonin, can trigger the condition. Other factors that may provoke a migraine include:
- Bright lights
- Severe heat or extremes in weather
- Changes in barometric pressure
- Hormone changes during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
- Excess stress
- Loud sounds
- Intense physical activity
- Skipping meals
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Use of medications, such as oral contraceptives
- Foods containing certain food additives, such as nitrates, artificial sugars or monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Alcohol or caffeinated drinks
If you’re uncertain what your migraine triggers are, your doctor may ask you to keep a headache journal. Recording your activities, the foods you eat, and the medications you take before your migraine strikes may help pinpoint your migraine triggers.
Who Gets Migraines?
Almost two million people in Australia experience migraines. This means that more people suffer from migraines in Australia than diabetes, asthma or coronary heart disease.
Migraines often run in families and affect all ages. They may begin in childhood or may not occur until early adulthood.
People typically describe migraine pain as pulsating, throbbing, perforating, pounding or a severe, dull, steady ache in the forehead area, on one side of the head. A migraine can also occur on both sides or shift.
While migraine pain may start as mild, it can become moderate to severe without treatment. The pain from a migraine can be so debilitating that it interferes with daily activities.
More than half of migraine sufferers also experience nausea and vomiting. These symptoms usually start at the same time or one hour after the headache.
Nausea and vomiting can make absorbing your migraine medication difficult. If nausea delays the taking of your migraine medication, your migraine may be more severe.
If you have nausea without vomiting, your doctor may recommend taking anti-nausea or antiemetic drugs to prevent vomiting and improve your nausea.
If your migraines are accompanied by significant nausea and vomiting, your doctor may advise starting preventative (prophylactic) migraine medications.
While there are no cures for migraines, your doctor can help you manage the symptoms and decrease their frequency.
Your long-term treatment plan may include:
- Lifestyle adjustments, including stress management
- Avoidance of migraine triggers
- Over-the-counter pain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- Prescription migraine medications
- Hormone therapy if migraines are related to hormone changes
- Alternative care, including biofeedback, meditation, acupuncture or acupressure
For migraine relief, try gently massaging your scalp or temples, placing a cold washcloth over your forehead or behind your neck, and lying still in a dark, quiet room.
When To See A Doctor About Your Migraine Headache
Migraines are often undiagnosed and untreated. If you can, keep a record of your migraine symptoms and make an appointment with your GP to discuss them. A doctor will diagnose you based on your clinical history and reported symptoms.
Although migraine headaches are a painful condition that impacts the quality of life, they are not usually considered dangerous. However, your migraine may indicate a more serious medical issue if:
- Your migraine is abrupt and severe
- Your migraine occurs after a head injury
- The migraine accompanies a fever, stiff neck, mental confusion or seizures
- The headache is new and occurs after age 50
For more advice on migraine headaches, including migraine treatment and relief, book an appointment with a GP at our state of the art clinics today or contact us on (07) 3711 2880.