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.

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