Migraine headaches are often described as an intense pulsing or throbbing pain in one area of the head, usually lasting from 4 to 72 hours if left untreated. Other symptoms of this debilitating disorder may include nausea or vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraine affects more than 10 percent of people worldwide and is three times more common in women than men. About one-third of migraine sufferers can predict the onset of a migraine because it is preceded by visual disturbances called an “aura,” which may appear as flashing lights, zigzag lines or a temporary loss of vision.
People with migraine tend to have recurring attacks that are triggered by a variety of factors, including stress, hormonal changes, weather changes, lack of food or sleep, and certain types of foods. Researchers now believe that migraine has a genetic cause but its underlying pathophysiology is not fully understood.
Treatment for migraine focuses either on prevention, involving medications and lifestyle changes, and/or on the relief of symptoms. Stress management strategies such as exercise, relaxation techniques and biofeedback may reduce the number and severity of migraine attacks. Hormone therapy may help some women whose migraines seemed to be linked to their menstrual cycle, and they are likely to have fewer attacks and milder symptoms after menopause. For relief of symptoms, sumatriptan, ergotamine drugs and ibuprofen or aspirin may be effective.
With the proper combination of medications for prevention and treatment of migraine attacks, most people can overcome much of the discomfort caused by the disorder.