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Neurological Disorders

Here’s How to Tell If You’re Having a Migraine

Have you ever been unsure if what you are experiencing is a headache or a migraine attack? Most people will experience at least one headache this year, however, migraine is also very common. 

One in 4 U.S. households has a member who suffers from migraines. It is estimated that 1 billion people worldwide and 40 million Americans are living with migraine disease, making it the third most prevalent illness in the world.

Many factors may trigger migraine attacks, such as stress, weather, diet, exercise, hormones, sleep disruption, and medication. Migraine triggers differ for everyone, and what causes a migraine in one person may relieve it in another. Keeping a migraine diary is the best way to determine your triggers.

Is it a migraine?

Migraine characteristics may include:

  • Pain typically on one side of the head
  • Pulsating or throbbing pain
  • Moderate to intense pain affecting daily activities
  • Attacks lasting 4 to 72 hours, sometimes longer
  • Physical exertion makes head pain worse

Migraine is also associated with nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light or sound.

Migraine attacks come in four phases: the prodrome, the aura, the headache, and the postdrome. The prodrome occurs hours or days before the attack, and some may experience sensitivity to light and sounds, mood changes, loss of appetite or certain cravings, fatigue, constipation, or diarrhea. 

About 20 percent of people will then experience aura. Those with aura will experience visual disturbances, such as wavy lines, dots, or flashing lights about 20 minutes to an hour before head pain. Some people will also experience tingling in their arms or face, or have difficulty speaking. The head pain will last anywhere from several hours to several days, and is associated with the above symptoms. 

Finally, during the postdrome, or period after the migraine attack, some individuals may feel listless, weak, irritable, and/or fatigued.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of migraine, visit a headache specialist for a diagnosis and treatment plan. Explore the National Headache Foundation’s website for more information and to better understand how to relieve your head pain.

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