Migraine headaches

Migraines are painful, sometimes disabling headaches that are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light, noise, and smell. These throbbing headaches usually occur on only one side of the head, although the pain can shift from one side of the head to the other, or can occur on both sides at the same time.

Migraines involve changes in chemicals and blood vessels in the brain, which trigger pain signals leading to headache and other symptoms.

Migraine headaches tend to recur. A migraine headache typically lasts 4 to 24 hours but in some cases can last up to 3 days. Some people have symptoms, such as visual disturbances, that occur before a headache starts. These symptoms are called a migraine aura.

Some people have several headaches per month; others have headaches much less often. Treatment usually includes medications to prevent a migraine from occurring or to stop a migraine once it begins. In some people, migraines may be triggered by certain foods or smells. Eliminating exposure to these triggers may stop the headaches.

Last Updated: June 30, 2009

Author: Monica Rhodes

Medical Review: Martin Gabica, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology

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