A migraine is a throbbing or pulsating headache that is often
one sided (unilateral) and associated with nausea; vomiting;
sensitivity to light, sound, smells; sleep disruption, and
depression. Attacks are often recurrent and tend to become
less severe as the migraine sufferer ages.
Migraines are classified according to the symptoms they
produce. The two most common types are migraine with aura
and migraine without aura. Less common types include the
following: Basilar artery migraine, Carotidynia, Headache-free
migraine, Ophthalmoplegic migraine, Status migraine.
Some women experience migraine headaches just prior to or
during menstruation. These headaches, which are called
menstrual migraines, may be related to hormonal changes
and often do not occur during pregnancy. Other women
develop migraines for the first time during pregnancy or after
Incidence and Prevalence
Migraines afflict about 24 million people in the United States.
They may occur at any age, but usually begin between the
ages of 10 and 40 and diminish after age 50. Some people
experience several migraines a month, while others have only
a few migraines throughout their lifetime. Approximately 75%
of migraine sufferers are women.
The cause of migraine is unknown. The condition may result
from a series of reactions in the central nervous system
caused by changes in the body or in the environment. There
is often a family history of the disorder, suggesting that
migraine sufferers may inherit sensitivity to triggers that
produce inflammation in the blood vessels and nerves around
the brain, causing pain.
Signs and Symptoms
Migraine pain is often described as throbbing or pulsating
pain that is intensified by routine physical activity, coughing,
straining, or lowering the head. The headache is often so
severe that it interferes with daily activity and may awaken the
person. The attack is debilitating, and migraine sufferers are
often left feeling tired and weak once the headache has
A migraine typically begins in a specific area on one side of
the head, then spreads and builds in intensity over 1 to 2
hours and then gradually subsides. It can last up to 24 hours,
and in some cases, several days.