We all know the dull pain and discomfort that come with a headache. You grit your teeth, rely on medicine to lessen the ache, and try to figure out (and avoid) what caused it in the first place.
But that throbbing in your head may be something more. Run-of-the-mill tension headaches and migraines share similar symptoms. If you suffer from frequent headaches, understanding the additional causes and markers of migraines may help you get the right medical diagnosis and save you a lot of pain down the road.
What causes migraines?
A migraine is a complicated neurological condition that can cause multiple symptoms. It is most often characterized by intense headaches that can be debilitating enough to upend everyday life.
Beyond the fact that they’re neurological in nature, researchers haven’t identified a single, definitive cause for migraines. What they do know is:
- Anyone of any age can experience migraines. They may start in childhood or occur in early adulthood.
- A family history of migraines is one of the most common risk factors.
- Women are more likely than men to experience migraines, although gender alone isn’t a factor.
Researchers have also identified contributing causes that can trigger migraines, including:
- Bright lights, loud sounds or unusual smells
- Hormone changes in women, such as estrogen and progesterone changes during menstruation, pregnancy or menopause
- Intense physical activity
- Decrease in serotonin levels
- Changes in barometric pressure
- Certain medications, such as oral contraceptives or nitroglycerin
- Caffeinated drinks, food additives such as nitrates or MSG, or foods containing tyramine like aged cheese or sauerkraut
- Excess stress
- Changes in meal or sleep patterns
- Smoking and alcohol use
What are the symptoms of a migraine?
Migraine symptoms can progress through four stages:
Stage 1: Prodrome
Migraine symptoms may begin one to two days before the headache itself. During this phase, symptoms may include depression, frequent yawning, fatigue, food cravings, irritability, hyperactivity and neck stiffness.
Stage 2: Aura
Some people may experience auras that can cause problems with vision, movement, sensation and speech. Individuals may have difficulty speaking clearly or feel a tingling sensation in their face, arms or legs. Others may see bright spots or light flashes, or temporarily lose their vision.
Stage 3: Attack
This is when actual migraine pain sets in. Symptoms may include:
- Pulsing and throbbing head pain
- Pain in one area of the head, including the front, back, left or right side, or the temples
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Increased sensitivity to light and sound
Stage 4: Post-drome
This final stage can bring changes in moods and emotions, ranging from euphoria and happiness to fatigue and apathy. Following a migraine attack, people may continue to feel a mild, dull headache.
Migraine symptoms and their intensity vary from person to person, and not everyone will experience each stage. Duration can also fluctuate. Most migraines last about four hours but can go on for days to a week.
Treating and preventing migraines
Unfortunately, there is no one, simple solution to treat or prevent migraines. But there are ways to lessen their frequency and manage symptoms when they do happen.
Walk-in clinics and other urgent care centers across the U.S. treat about 89 million patients every year. At Immediate Clinic, we are ready to help you start feeling better. If you have a history of migraine headaches and need some extra help relieving them, we are here for you.
We have injectable medications on hand (such as Toradol, Imitrex and Zofran) to get you feeling better faster. Our medical providers can evaluate you to determine the best treatment plan for you. They can discuss lifestyle changes, over the counter medications, prescription medications and other therapies that may benefit you.
You may need additional follow-up appointments with your doctor or even a referral to a headache specialist. You may also want to keep a headache journal to record what you were doing at the onset of the migraine, medications you were taking and what foods you ate before it began. This information will help better assess your migraine triggers so you can avoid them in the future.
Medical care when you need it
Don’t let headache pain and other migraine symptoms disrupt your life. Visit a nearby Immediate Clinic for care and relief. We’re open from 8 am to 8 pm, 7 days a week.
**If you are experiencing the worst headache of your life, we recommend you immediately go to your nearest Emergency Room because this could be something more serious, such as a stroke.
During the COVID-19 season, we’re taking extra precautions in our clinics to ensure you have a safe visit.
- Schedule an appointment online, if you can.
- If possible, please limit the number of people who accompany you to your visit to one.
- Call us when you arrive. One of our friendly clinic concierges will take care of most of your check-in process by phone, while you’re still in your car. You’ll be guided to an exam suite when it’s ready.