A migraine is a type of headache
that recurs (keeps coming back), and also causes other symptoms. The pain is often
throbbing and can happen on one or both sides of the head. People with migraines can
feel dizzy or sick to their stomachs. They may be sensitive to light, noise, or smells.
Migraines can be disabling, and teens with migraines often need to skip school,
sports, work, or other activities until they feel better.
Who Gets Migraines?
If you have migraines, you're not alone. Up to 10% of U.S. teens and young adults
get migraines. And after age 12, during and after puberty, migraines affect girls
twice as often as guys.
Experts believe that the likelihood of getting migraines runs in the family. If
one of your parents gets migraines, you have a greater chance of having them than
someone who doesn't have that family history.
What Causes Migraines?
The exact cause of migraines isn't known. Scientists think that they happen because
some neurons (nerves in the brain) stop working properly and send the wrong signals.
This may affect the nerve system that regulates pain.
Whatever the cause, experts do agree that different things trigger (set off) migraines
in people who have them.
Every migraine begins differently. Sometimes people get a warning that a migraine
is on its way. A few hours or even days before the actual headache, people might feel
funny or "not right. They might crave different foods, or feel thirsty, irritable,
tired, or even full of energy. This is called a "premonition."
Some people get auras. These are neurological symptoms that start
just before the headache and last up to an hour. An aura is different in every person,
but it often affects vision. For example, a person might:
have blurred vision
see spots, colored balls, jagged lines, or bright flashing lights
smell a certain odor
feel tingling in a part of their face
Once the headache starts, light, smell, or sound may bother people with migraines
or make them feel worse. Sometimes, if they try to continue with their usual routine,
they may become nauseated and vomit. Often the pain begins only on one side of the
head, but it might eventually affect both sides. Trying to do physical activities
can make the pain worse.
Most migraines last from 30 minutes to several hours; some can last a couple of
How Are Migraines Diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask a lot of questions to see what might be causing the symptoms,
and will examine you, paying particular attention to the neurological exam. He or
she may ask you to keep a headache diary to help figure out what triggers your headaches.
The information you record will help the doctor figure out the best treatment.
Sometimes, doctors may order blood tests or imaging tests, such as a CAT scan or
MRI of the brain, to rule out medical problems that might cause a person's migraines.
How Are Migraines Treated?
Migraine headaches and their triggers can vary a lot between people. Treatment
can depend on how severe the headaches are, how often they happen, and what symptoms
a person gets with them.
Usually it helps to lie down in a cool, dark, quiet room. Your doctor may prescribe
pain relief medicine or medicines that help with nausea and vomiting. Some people
need preventive medicines that are taken every day to reduce the number and severity
of the migraines.
Some doctors teach a technique called biofeedback to their patients with migraines.
This helps a person learn to relax and use the brain to gain control over certain
body functions (like heart rate and muscle stress) that cause tension and pain. If
a migraine begins slowly, some people can use biofeedback to remain calm and stop
Adding other non-medicine therapies to the treatment plan, such as acupuncture
or herbs, helps some people with migraines. But ask your health care provider about
these before trying them. This is especially true of herbal treatments because they
can affect how other medicines work.
Can Migraines Be Prevented?
You can't prevent every migraine. But learning your triggers and trying to avoid
them can help. Take a break from activities that might start a migraine, such as using
the computer for a long time. If you know that some foods are triggers, skip them.
Some people find that cutting back on caffeine or drinking a lot of water can help
Make a plan for all the things you have to do — especially during stressful
times like exams — so you don't feel overwhelmed when things pile up. Regular
exercise also can reduce
stress and make you feel better.
The more you understand about your headaches, the better prepared you can be to