A migraine is a common type of headache that may occur with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. In many people, a throbbing pain is felt only on one side of the head.
Some people who get migraines have warning symptoms, called an aura, before the actual headache begins. An aura is a group of symptoms, including vision disturbances, that are a warning sign that a bad headache is coming.
Mixed tension migraine(features of both a migraine and tension headache) Tension headache
Headache - migraine
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Migraine headaches tend to first appear between the ages of 10 and 45. Sometimes they may begin later in life.
- Migraines occur more often in women than men,
- Migraines may run in families.
- Some women, but not all, may have fewer migraines when they are pregnant.
A migraine is caused by abnormal brain activity, which is triggered by stress, certain foods, environmental factors, or something else. However, the exact chain of events remains unclear. Today, most medical experts believe the attack begins in the brain, and involves various nerve pathways and chemicals. The changes affect blood flow in the brain and surrounding tissues.
Migraine attacks may be triggered by:
- Allergic reactions
- Bright lights
- Certain odors or perfumes
- Changes in hormone levels (which can occur during a woman's menstrual cycle or with the use of birth control pills)
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Loud noises
- Missed meals
- Physical or emotional stress
- Smoking or exposure to smoke
Certain foods and preservatives in foods may trigger migraines in some people. Food-related triggers may include:
- Any processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated foods
- Baked goods
- Dairy products
- Foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Foods containing tyramine, which includes red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and certain beans
- Fruits (avocado, banana, citrus fruit)
- Meats containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats)
- Peanut butter
This list may not include all triggers.
True migraine headaches are not a result of a brain tumor or other serious medical problem. However, only an experienced health care provider can determine whether your symptoms are due to a migraine or another condition.
Review Date: 11/22/2010
Reviewed By: Kevin Sheth, MD, Department of Neurology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.