Migraine -- Adult

Migraine is a type of recurring headache. It involves nerves and brain chemicals. Other sensations (eg, auras) may come before a migraine headache. There are two types of migraines: Migraine may happen several times a week or once every couple of years. They can be so severe that they interfere with the ability to work and carry on normal activities.

  • Causes


    While the precise cause is not known, many potential triggers have been identified. Common triggers include:

    • Environmental triggers (eg, odors, bright lights)
    • Dietary triggers (eg, alcohol)
    • Certain medications
    • Changes in sleep patterns
    • Stress
    • Physiologic changes (eg, menstruation, puberty)
    • Weather changes

    A trigger sets the process in motion. It is possible that the nervous system reacts to the trigger by conducting electrical activity. This spreads across the brain. It leads to the release of brain chemicals, which help regulate pain.

  • Definition

    Migraine is a type of recurring headache. It involves nerves and brain chemicals. Other sensations (eg, auras) may come before a migraine headache.

    There are two types of migraines:

    • Occurring with an aura (formerly called "classic")
    • Occurring without an aura (formerly called "common")

    Migraine may happen several times a week or once every couple of years. They can be so severe that they interfere with the ability to work and carry on normal activities.

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A
    physical exam
    will be done. You may also be given a neurological exam.

    To rule out other conditions your doctor may order tests, such as:

    • Computed tomography (CT) scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the head
    • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
    • Blood tests
    CT Scan of the Head
    Breast self-exam, step 5
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Prevention

    Methods for preventing migraine include:

    • Avoiding those things that trigger the headache
    • Following your doctor's recommendations—The doctor may consider using medications to prevent headaches such as:
      • Butterbur extract
      • Antidepressant
      • Antiseizure
      • Medications that lower blood pressure

    Healthy lifestyle habits that may help prevent migraines include:

    • Maintain regular sleep patterns.
    • Learn stress management techniques.
    • Do not skip meals.
    • Avoid alcohol.
    • Exercise regularly. Consider yoga as one type of activity.

    • Ask your doctor if
      acupuncture
      is right for you. It may help you to have more headache-free days, as well as lessen the intensity of headaches when they do occur.

    Therapy that may decrease migraine or migraine pain include:

    • Mind-body therapies such as:
      • Biofeedback
      • Cognitive behavioral therapy
      • Guided imagery (may improve pain coping)
    • Massage therapy


    Foods are not proven to trigger migraine. But consider keeping a diary of migraine and diet to identify foods that may trigger migraines for you. Foods suspected to trigger migraine include:

    • Nuts and peanut butter
    • Beans (eg, lima, navy, pinto, and others)
    • Aged or cured meats
    • Aged cheese
    • Processed or canned meat
    • Caffeine (intake or withdrawal)
    • Canned soup
    • Buttermilk or sour cream
    • Meat tenderizer
    • Brewer's yeast
    • Avocados
    • Onions
    • Pickles
    • Red plums
    • Sauerkraut
    • Snow peas
    • Soy sauce
    • Anything with MSG (monosodium glutamate), tyramine, or nitrates

  • Risk Factors

    Migraines are more common in women and before the age of 40. Other factors that increase your chance for migraines may include:

    • Family history of migraines
    • Menstruation
    • Obesity
    • Presence of patent foramen ovale—a congenital heart defect

  • Symptoms

    Migraines occur in phases that may include:

  • Treatment

    Migraine therapy
    aims to:

    • Prevent headaches
    • Reduce headache severity and frequency
    • Restore your ability to function
    • Improve quality of life

    Treatment options include: