• By Dana Sparks

“What is a migraine headache?”

March 28, 2015

young woman with severe headache or migraine

Lake City, Minn. - Migraine is three times more common in women than in men and affects more than 10 percent of people worldwide, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Mayo Clinic Health System Family Medicine physician Rachel Batdorf, M.D., says, "Although any head pain can be miserable, migraines are often disabling."  In about 15 percent of cases, these painful headaches are preceded by a sensory warning sign (aura), such as flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in your arm or leg. Migraines are also often accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine pain can be excruciating and may incapacitate you for hours or even days.

Fortunately, migraine pain management has improved dramatically in the last decade.  Although there’s still no cure, medications can help reduce the frequency of migraines and stop the pain once it has started. The right medicines combined with self-help remedies and changes in lifestyle may make a tremendous difference for you.

See your health care provider immediately or go to the emergency room if you have any of the following signs and symptoms, which may indicate another, more serious medical problem:

  • A new severe headache that isn’t just on one side of your head
  • Headache with fever, stiff neck, rash, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking
  • Headache after a recent sore throat or respiratory infection
  • Headache after a head injury, especially if the headache gets worse
  • A chronic headache that is worse after coughing, exertion, straining or a sudden movement
  • New headache pain after age 55

Even if you have a history of headaches, see your health care provider if the pattern changes or your headaches suddenly feel different.

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