Migraine headaches are one of the most common reasons that people visit emergency rooms and doctors. These painful headaches affect over 37 million Americans every year, according to the National Headache Foundation.

Migraines normally last anywhere from three to 72 hours, varying in frequency from daily occurrences to once per year. Three times more women suffer from migraines than men, and about 80 percent of migraine sufferers have family members who also experience them.

Types of Migraines

Eighty percent of migraines are classified as common migraines. Sufferers do not see an “aura” prior to an episode.

Classic migraine sufferers do notice an aura before they have an episode. The aura is a visual phenomena consisting of jagged light images or outlines of lights. Classic migraines tend to be more severe than the common form.

Status migrainosus are migraine attacks lasting over 72 hours.

Chronic migraines are those which occur sporadically over time.

What causes migraines?

The precise cause of migraines is unclear at the present time, but experts believe they are caused by a mixture of blood vessel expansion and certain chemicals that result in pain and inflammation.

Brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are believed to be involved in migraines. They can make blood vessels act irregularly if there is an imbalance or the blood vessels have an adverse reaction to them.

Other factors that are believed to trigger migraines include:

  • Certain foods, like cheese, chocolate, and MSG
  • Skipping meals
  • Tension and stress
  • Birth control pills that can alter hormone levels in women

Migraine Symptoms

Although symptoms vary depending upon the individual, five phases can be seen:

  • Prodrome: Signs may included mood changes, irritability, strange tastes or smells, or muscle fatigue and weakness.
  • Auras: Visual disturbances including seeing spots, flashes, halos, or geometric patterns.
  • Headaches: Pain from migraines usually originates on one side of the head and is accompanied by throbbing pain. Most sufferers experience nausea and some will vomit. Most also have extreme sensitivity to light and sound during an incident.
  • Headache termination: Migraines usually go away with rest.
  • Postdrome: Some migraine symptoms may linger after the pain has subsided.

Migraine Treatment

Migraine relief sometimes comes only through treatment. Some find migraine relief using cold compresses or resting with pillows arranged in a certain way. Others obtain relief only through the use of medications like Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.