MigrainesMigraine Symptoms and Causes

Let’s Talk About the Symptoms and Causes of Migraine

Wondering if those bad headaches are really migraines? We'll help you figure out the difference so you can get relief.

    Our Pro PanelMigraine Symptoms and Causes

    We went to some of the nation’s top experts in migraines to bring you the most up-to-date information possible.

    Marius Birlea, M.D.

    Marius Birlea, M.D.Assistant Professor of Neurology; Director, Headache Fellowship

    University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine
    Joel R. Saper, M.D.

    Joel R. Saper, M.D.Director

    Michigan Headache & Neurological Institute
    Ann Arbor, MI
    Stewart J. Tepper, M.D.

    Stewart J. Tepper, M.D.Professor of Neurology

    Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth
    Lebanon, NH

    Frequently Asked QuestionsMigraine Symptoms and Causes

    When I get headaches, I also feel nauseated and sometimes throw up. Could those be migraines?

    Possibly. To get a diagnosis, you have to have two of the following criteria: Your pain must be moderately to severely intense, it has to get worse during routine activity, it occurs on one side, and your head feels like it’s throbbing. Then you also have to feel queasy and/or vomit or be sensitive to light. There’s another type of migraine called probable migraine, which just needs to meet one of those criteria. But they have to be recurrent (in other words, you’ve had to have at least five of them in your life) and the pain has to have been moderately severe.

    Can you get migraines without having a headache?

    Yes, you can have silent migraines. You have all the signs of an aura—the shimmering lights or patterns, the tingling—without the throbbing headache that comes afterwards. But since those are also disruptive (who wants to drive or do anything when you’re bombarded by flashing colors), you’ll need to see a doctor, who may suggest a preventative medication.

    Why do foods like red wine or aged cheese trigger migraines in certain people?

    It could be that these foods are high in chemicals (like tyramine in cheddar or Gouda, sulfites in red wine) that can activate the chemicals (like neurotransmitters) and areas of the brain responsible for migraines. But triggers usually come in pairs or threesomes, so you’d need other things—like a stressful situation, lack of sleep, or a missed meal—to set off an attack.

    I heard that migraines get better during pregnancy, but mine have gotten worse! What gives?

    It happens, though you are in the minority. Most women find that they have fewer migraines during pregnancy and less painful ones too. But 15% of women find that their attacks get worse, especially during the first trimester, when hormones are fluctuating. But if your migraines are particularly bad or get worse, be sure to bring it up with your OB. Sometimes moms-to-be with migraines are at risk for pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia and giving birth too early.

    Linda Rodgers

    Linda Rodgers


    Linda Rodgers is a former magazine and digital editor turned writer, focusing on health and wellness.