Migraine Headache Frequently Asked Questions- the Top Ten List

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If millions of people suffer from migraine headaches, then why is migraine awareness so low?  Below are answers to popular migraine questions, including the difference between tension headaches and migraines, what is a migraine with aura, and how to treat migraine symptoms without painkillers.


1. What’s the difference between tension headaches and migraines?

Tension headaches are caused by muscular strain, and while they can be painful, they are rarely disabling.  Migraine headaches happen when the blood vessels in the head constrict and dilate, causing throbbing pain on one side of the head.  Migraine headaches are excruciating- severe migraine attacks may require days of recuperation.

Unlike tension headaches, migraine attacks may cause other symptoms such as nausea, uncontrolled vomiting, sensitivity to lights, sounds, and scents, faintness, and visual or olfactory hallucinations.

2. What is a migraine with aura?

There are many types of migraines, but most divide into two categories- migraines that occur following an “aura,” and migraines that do not, an aura being a fifteen-minute warning before the onset of a migraine attack.  Auras consist of visual disturbances like bright, flashing lights, blind spots, and distorted spatial awareness, in addition to phantom burning smells and stroke-like symptoms like garbled speech, partial paralysis, and loss of consciousness.


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3. What kind of migraine am I having?

Depending on your symptoms and the location of head pain, you may be experiencing any one of a number of migraine headaches types.

  • If you experience pain behind one eye that spreads to the rest of your head, causing temporary loss of vision in that eye, you may be having a retinal migraine.
  • If you experience sharp pain behind one eye in addition to numbness, droopiness, and blurred vision, you may be having an ophthalmoplegic migraine.
  • If you experience dizziness and pain in the back of the head, you may be having a basilar artery migraine.
  • If you experience severe migraine symptoms that don’t go away on their own, you may be having a rare type of migraine called a status migrainosus.
  • If you experience muscular weakness and partial paralysis, you may be having a hemiplegic migraine.

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4. What is the difference between cluster headaches and migraines?

Cluster headaches are not in the same category as migraines, but they are equally (in not more) painful.  Cluster headaches occur in “cluster periods,” or cycles, which may last for weeks or months. Cluster headaches begin with burning pain on one side of the head, in the temple region, and quickly spread towards the eye area. Other symptoms are sudden nasal discharge and eye droopiness.


People can have migraines at any age- As many as 20% of all migraine patients say they experienced their first migraine before the age of ten, and 50% started having migraines before their 20th birthday.

While childhood headaches are very common, most are not migraine headaches; only about 5% of children experience migraines before the age of 15. The majority of childhood headaches include tension headaches from stress, or sinus headaches from viruses, infections, or cold symptoms.

6. Why do some people get migraines, while others do not?

Migraine sufferers number in the millions, and most of them are women.  Some people get migraines every now and then, some are plagued with weekly- or daily- migraines, and then there are many people who are lucky enough never to experience the excruciating misery that is a migraine attack.

What makes up the sliding scale of migraine severity? In a word, triggers.  Migraine triggers are factors that increase your likeliness of having a migraine.  Some people have only a few migraine triggers, such as foods that give them headaches. To prevent migraines, all they need to do is refrain from eating certain foods, like chocolate or soy sauce.

For many others, migraine triggers are either a complete mystery, decipherable only by an adept headache specialist, or something completely unavoidable, like the weather…or hormones.  As a rule of thumb, the more migraine triggers you have, the more likely you are to suffer ongoing migraine attacks.  The key is to abolish migraine triggers whenever possible, and learn how to cope with the ones that won’t go away.


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7. Why do I get migraines very late in the night or early in the morning?

If you wake up first thing in the morning to an astonishingly painful headache, then you could be suffering from hypnic headaches, which last about one hour and often occur because of a bad dream or “night terror.” Similarly, exploding head syndrome, also called “hypnic jerks,” are night terrors that wake you up in the middle of the night, creating the sensation of falling, weird gunshot sounds, involuntary twitches, and brief auras.

8. How can I ease my headaches and migraines without painkillers?

If you’re trying to wean off prescription painkillers, then you’re in luck.  Many healthy alternative therapies and lifestyle changes have helped migraine sufferers reduce their migraine symptoms naturally, effectively, and safely. Here are a few:

  • MIGRAINE HEADACHE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS- THE TOP TEN LIST, WWW.MIGRAVENT.COMRestrictive diet- by following a diet geared towards eliminating food triggers, you can easily prevent a significant amount of migraine attacks from occurring.  Some have found unexpected relief by switching to a gluten-free diet. By using a migraine diary, you can determine which foods to avoid, in addition to keeping track of your eating habits and any other migraine influences.
  • Light exercise- if physical exertion is not a migraine trigger, then you may benefit from a wide variety of exercises that also incorporate meditation and gentle stretches for total peace of mind. Experiment with various types of yoga, tai chi, water aerobics, Pilates, or an indoor Wii program.
  • Alternative therapies include acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology, biofeedback, aromatherapy, oxygen therapy, and chiropractic care.
  • Herbs and nutrients for migraines are also effective for neurological health that is conducive to migraine management.

9. What are some natural ingredients for migraines?

Numerous double-blind clinical studies have proven that natural ingredients are effective at achieving optimum neurological health and maintaining a healthy response to inflammation.

The most effective natural ingredients include herbs and dietary supplements, starting with butterbur supplements, magnesium, coenzyme Q10, and riboflavin (B2).  Other good herbs, roots, and flowers include chamomile, ginger, feverfew, peppermint, and rosemary.


10. When should I go to the doctor about my migraines?

Typical migraines are not harmful or life threatening, but it’s important to familiarize yourself with certain headache symptoms that may indicate a need for immediate emergency care.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, please call 911 immediately:

  • “Thunderclap” headaches, explosive head pain that appears and vanishes quickly, could indicate stroke.
  • Any kind of new and unusual headache pattern, particularly if accompanied by fatigue, dizziness, or nausea, requires immediate attention.
  • A headache that builds up slowly over weeks could signify a brain tumor.
  • Any sudden, excruciating headache that follows physical exercise requires immediate attention.
  • Headache accompanied by stiff neck pain should be looked at right away.
  • Symptoms including long-lasting headache, fever, and vision problems require immediate attention.

Read more about migraine headache symptoms:

To ER or not to ER? 8 Migraine Signals that call for Emergency Care

How long will my Migraine Headache Last? A Migraine Symptom Chart

Migraines and other Types of Headaches- How many are there? Part 1


Could Your Headache Be a Migraine? – Learn the difference between the two on MedicineNet.com

Headaches in Children and Adolescents on MedicineNet.com

Migraine Headache- Care Guide

Image credits, from top:

Stuart Miles, nuttakit, Arvind Balaraman, Master isolated images, Suat Eman, Danilo Rizzuti