A migraine is a throbbing or pulsating headache that is often one sided (unilateral) and associated with nausea; vomiting; sensitivity to light, sound, smells; sleep disruption, and depression. Attacks are often recurrent and tend to become less severe as the migraine sufferer ages.
Migraines are classified according to the symptoms they produce. The two most common types are migraine with aura and migraine without aura. Less common types include the following: Basilar artery migraine, Carotidynia, Headache-free migraine, Ophthalmoplegic migraine, Status migraine.
Some women experience migraine headaches just prior to or during menstruation. These headaches, which are called menstrual migraines, may be related to hormonal changes and often do not occur during pregnancy. Other women develop migraines for the first time during pregnancy or after menopause.
Incidence and Prevalence
Migraines afflict about 24 million people in the United States. They may occur at any age, but usually begin between the ages of 10 and 40 and diminish after age 50. Some people experience several migraines a month, while others have only a few migraines throughout their lifetime. Approximately 75% of migraine sufferers are women.
The cause of migraine is unknown. The condition may result from a series of reactions in the central nervous system caused by changes in the body or in the environment. There is often a family history of the disorder, suggesting that migraine sufferers may inherit sensitivity to triggers that produce inflammation in the blood vessels and nerves around the brain, causing pain.
Signs and Symptoms
Migraine pain is often described as throbbing or pulsating pain that is intensified by routine physical activity, coughing, straining, or lowering the head. The headache is often so severe that it interferes with daily activity and may awaken the person. The attack is debilitating, and migraine sufferers are often left feeling tired and weak once the headache has passed.
A migraine typically begins in a specific area on one side of the head, then spreads and builds in intensity over 1 to 2 hours and then gradually subsides. It can last up to 24 hours, and in some cases, several days.