Migraines: Definition, Causes, and Risk Factors

June 20, 2018

Those who have experienced migraines can attest to the severe throbbing pain these headaches can cause. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines affect up to 39 million individuals in the United States and one billion people worldwide.

What is a Migraine?

A migraine is a type of headache characterized by a moderate to severe throbbing pain. The pain is generally in the front or side of the head and not across the head (as in tension headaches). A migraine is often accompanied by other symptoms including nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise, and auras (auras refer to neurologic symptoms that include visual disturbances or other sensory problems). A typical migraine attack lasts between four and 72 hours.

Common Triggers of Migraines

Different individuals might find that their migraines are caused by very different things. You may be able to reduce the severity and frequency of migraines by avoiding those causes, a.k.a. your triggers. Some common migraine triggers include:

  • A diet that includes processed foods, cheeses, wine and salty foods
  • Stress
  • An irregular sleep schedule
  • Hormonal changes, especially estrogen in women
  • Extreme exertion or exercise
  • Certain medications

In addition to avoiding your triggers, be sure to eat a healthy diet, keep a regular bedtime schedule, exercise regularly (but avoid overexertion) and talk to your doctor about medications that may trigger your migraines.

There are also medications that may help prevent migraines. Speak with your physician to determine if a preventative medication or therapy may be helpful for you.

Who’s at Risk

Certain individuals are more likely to suffer from migraines. Risk factors include:

  • Gender – 85% of people affected by migraines are women according to the Migraine Research Foundation.
  • Family History – There is believed to be a genetic component to migraines. The American Migraine Foundation reports that there is a 50-75% chance you will get a migraine if one or both of your parents suffer from migraines.
  • Age – Migraines typically occur in individuals between the ages of 25 and 55 years old.

Science and medicine are always evolving and research has given us ways to better cope with these debilitating headaches. If you believe you suffer from migraines, see your Amicus healthcare provider as soon as possible. Bring any information you have about your headaches with you to the appointment. Information such as frequency, potential triggers and symptoms will be very helpful for your doctor in providing a diagnosis and treatment plan.

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