Migraines | Overview

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What is a migraine headache?

A migraine is usually an intense pounding headache that can last for 2 hours or even up to 2 or 3 days. The pounding or pulsing pain usually begins in the forehead, the side of the head or around the eyes. The headache gradually gets worse. Just about any movement, activity, bright lights or loud noises seem to make it hurt more. Nausea and vomiting are common.

Some people see a pattern of lines or shadows in front of their eyes as the headache is beginning. This is called a "warning aura." Most people who have migraine headaches do not have this.

 Migraines may happen only once or twice a year, or as often as daily. Women are more likely to have migraines than men.

Do children get migraine headaches?

Yes. The most common cause of headaches in children is a viral infection such as a cold or the flu. As many as 5% of children in grade school have migraine headaches. During the high school years, about 20% of adolescents get migraine headaches. These headaches are more common in girls than in boys. Boys who get migraines have them more often when they are about 10 to 12 years of age. It is not unusual for them to have 2 to 3 migraine headaches a week.

Are there different kinds of migraine headaches?

Yes. The most common are classic migraine and common migraine.

Classic migraines start with a warning sign, called an aura. The aura often involves changes in the way you see. You may see flashing lights and colors. You may temporarily lose some of your vision, such as your side vision.

You may also feel a strange prickly or burning sensation, or have muscle weakness on one side of your body. You may have trouble communicating. You may also feel depressed, irritable and restless.

Auras last about 15 to 30 minutes. Auras may occur before or after your head pain, and sometimes the pain and aura overlap, or the pain never occurs. The head pain of classic migraines may occur on one side of your head or on both sides.

Common migraines don't start with an aura. Common migraines may start more slowly than classic migraines, last longer and interfere more with daily activities. The pain of common migraines may be on only one side of your head.

Source

Headaches in Children and Adolescents by DW Lewis, M.D. (American Family Physician February 15, 2002, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020215/625.html)

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 09/10
Created: 01/96

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