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What You Can Do About Migraine Headaches

What Sets Off Migraine Headaches and Available Treatments

The pain of a migraine headache can be intense. It can get in the way of your daily activities. Migraines are not the same in all people. Migraine headaches are usually characterized by severe pain on one or both sides of the head, an upset stomach, and, at times, disturbed vision. Women are more likely than men to have migraine headaches. Migraine pain is moderate to severe, often described as pounding, throbbing pain. They can last from four hours to three days and usually occur one to four times per month.

Types of Migraine Headaches

There are four types of headaches:

  • Vascular headache
  • Muscle contraction headache (tension headache)
  • Traction headache
  • Inflammatory headache

The most common type of vascular headache is migraine. After migraine, the most common type of vascular headache is the toxic headache produced by fever. Other kinds of vascular headaches include cluster headaches, and headaches resulting from high blood pressure. Like other types of pain, headaches can serve as warning signals of more serious disorders.

Things That May Set Off a Migraine

There are many things that may set off a migraine headache:

  • Strong or unusual odors, bright lights, or loud noises
  • Changes in weather or altitude
  • Being tired, stressed, or depressed
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Certain foods, especially those that contain tyramine, sodium nitrate, or phenylalanine (e.g., alcohol, cheese, fruit, processed foods, meat and fish, soy, nuts, and chocolate)
  • Missing meals or fasting
  • Menstrual periods, birth control pills, or hormones
  • Intense physical activity, including sexual activity
  • Smoking

Treatment for Migraines

The good news for headache sufferers is that, once a correct headache diagnoses is made, an effective treatment plan can be started. The first step is to go to your family doctor. He or she will perform a complete physical exam and a headache evaluation. Your headache history will be evaluated.

Some common approaches and treatments include:

  • Drug therapy combined with biofeedback and relaxation training
  • Medications to both prevent and treat attacks when they happen
  • Drugs called triptans relieve pain and restore function
  • Hormone therapy for some women whose migraines seem to be linked to their menstrual cycle

Your doctor may recommend different types of treatment. Not all headaches require medical attention. Treatment may also include education, counseling, stress management, biofeedback and medications.

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