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Neurological Disorders

Why Migraine Is More Than Just Head Pain


Migraine is a disabling disease that can impact all aspects of a person’s life. Unfortunately, many people think of migraine as just a terrible headache.

What many people don’t understand is that a headache can be just one of many symptoms of migraine. People who live with migraine disease often experience “migraine attacks,” where they have severe symptoms for a period of time.

Here’s everything you need to know about migraine, including lesser known symptoms and what to do if migraine is affecting you.

What is migraine?

Migraine is a complex neurological disease that can impact multiple body systems. The “textbook” definition of migraine is a moderate to severe pulsating headache often felt on one side. It can be aggravated by physical activity. In addition, people have nausea or vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light and sound. Attacks typically last 4-72 hours but are sometimes longer.

Surprising migraine symptoms

There are many other symptoms that can occur before, during, or after an attack. A few you may not realize are associated with a migraine attack may include:

  • Irritability or other mood changes
  • Brain fog or trouble focusing
  • Hearing a buzzing/ringing noise (tinnitus)
  • Experiencing pain from things that don’t normally cause pain (allodynia), for example, scalp pain while brushing your hair, or pain when your ears are exposed to cold or wind.
  • Smelling odors that aren’t actually there (phantosmia)
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Food cravings or increased thirst
  • Frequent yawning
  • Increased urination
  • Sinus complaints, such as congestion, runny nose, or pain/pressure

Everyone’s migraine experience is unique

Migraine doesn’t look the same for everyone. In fact, one person can experience different symptoms from attack to attack.

About one-third of people with migraine experience an aura — a temporary sensory disturbance that occurs before or during the headache. The most common aura is visual. People may have blind spots or see colorful dots, flashes of lights, or zig-zag patterns. Other aura symptoms can include speech or language problems, or even numbness or tingling in your face, tongue, or arms.

Not only do migraine symptoms vary, but so can the frequency of attacks. Some people have more frequent attacks than others. People with chronic migraine (as opposed to episodic migraine) have 15 or more headache days per month with migraine symptoms on eight or more days for at least a few months.

Chronic migraine usually represents a more severe form of the disease. Properly treating episodic migraine can help prevent progression to chronic migraine.

Migraine relief is possible

Migraine disease can be burdensome and disabling. Whether you have one attack per year or 25 attacks in a month, relief is possible. Recent advancements in migraine research have led to new migraine-specific therapies. New medications, devices, and treatment options are available.

Finding helpful treatments may take trial and error. By working with your healthcare provider, it’s possible to find an effective treatment plan.

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