UPDATED ON: 29 Feb 2024, 15:32 PM
Medically Reviewed by

What is Migraine?

Migraine is a neurological disorder that leads to recurrent and severe headaches. It can be extremely debilitating and can affect one side of your head. You may experience symptoms like sensitivity to loud, nausea, vomiting and more. It can get triggered by several factors such as hormonal changes, stress, environmental factors, sleep problems and consumption of certain foods including chocolate and cheese. Treatment for this condition mainly involves medication and making lifestyle changes.

Migraine can affect your quality of life. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Migraine is a neurological disorder typically characterised by frequent, severe headaches. These headaches are usually pulsating or throbbing in nature. They typically affect one side of your head. This is usually accompanied by a range of symptoms like sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting. Migraine attacks can be extremely debilitating and may even last up to several hours or days, making it difficult for you to perform daily activities.

Triggers for migraine can vary from one person to another and may include stress, hormonal changes, sleep disturbances, environmental factors and certain foods (strong smells, changes in weather), like chocolate, cheese and processed meat.

There are different types of migraines, including migraine with aura, migraine without aura, and other less common sub types that affect people. While the exact cause of migraine is not fully understood, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Treatment for this condition may include lifestyle changes, avoiding triggers, pain-relieving medication, preventive medicine, and in some cases, acute migraine-specific medication.

Causes of Migraine

The exact cause of migraine is not clearly known or understood. But researchers have found that migraine is a neurological disorder that involves abnormal brain activity. Some of the key factors that lead to the development of migraines include:

  • Genetic factors: Migraines tend to run in families. If you have a family member with a history of migraines, you might be at a higher risk of experiencing them as well.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Any kind of hormonal fluctuation can trigger migraines, especially in women. You may experience migraines if you are pregnant or going through menopause due to the changes in your estrogen levels.
  • Environmental triggers: Certain environmental factors such as stress, certain foods, caffeine, alcohol, strong smell, bright light, weather and disturbed sleep patterns can trigger migraine.
  • Changes in brain activity: Studies have shown that changes in the activity of specific areas of the brain, particularly the part involved in pain regulation, can cause migraines.

It is essential to note that triggers and factors contributing to migraines may vary. Additionally, some people may experience migraines without any triggers.

Key Facts About Migraine

Major Symptoms
  • Intense throbbing pain in the head
  • Pain getting worse
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision or blood spots
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, or odours
  • Lethargy
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Feeling cold or sweaty
Necessary Health Tests

The diagnosis of migraine is mostly clinical and there is no specific test to diagnose migraine. However, your doctor may ask you to undergo certain tests, including brain imaging, blood tests, and neurological examination that will help you rule out other possible causes of headaches.


Treatment of migraine mainly includes medication for pain relief, triptans for acute attacks, preventive medication, lifestyle changes, and avoiding triggers. All of this will help you reduce the symptoms.

Symptoms of Migraine

Migraine symptoms can vary from one person to another and can be different for every individual’s migraine attacks. It can also depend on the type of migraine that affects the person. While the symptoms of migraine may vary, there are some common symptoms you should look out for:


Prodrome is an early sign or symptom of an illness. In this case, some people may experience the following symptoms before a migraine:

  • Sensitivity to light, sound or smell
  • Lethargy
  • Mood swings
  • Constipation
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Diarrhoea
  • Lack of appetite or food cravings

Migraine without aura

Also known as common migraine, this type of migraine occurs more frequently and leads to symptoms such as:

  • Intense headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)

Migraine without aura (common migraine)

  • Sensitivity to smells and odour
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Visual disturbances (rare)

Migraine with aura

Classical migraine or migraine with aura usually precedes or occurs during the headache phase of a migraine attack. Not everyone with a migraine experiences an aura, it typically lasts for about 20-60 minutes for those who do. You may experience the following symptoms with aura:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Tingling or numbness in the face
  • Difficulty in speech
  • Weakness or difficulty moving certain body parts

It is important to note that migraine symptoms can vary in intensity and duration. It is important to consult a healthcare provider to manage your migraines effectively.

Diagnosis of Migraine

The diagnosis of migraine is primarily done on the basis of your medical history, symptoms experienced through headache episodes, and a physical or neurological examination. There is no special test that can diagnose migraine, so doctors majorly rely on clinical criteria and patterns to make an accurate diagnosis. In some cases, additional tests such as MRI or CT scan used for brain imaging that may help rule out other potential causes of headaches. A proper diagnosis is important to ensure the right management and treatment of the condition.

Treatment of Migraine

The treatment of migraines is important to alleviate the symptoms of migraine, reducing the frequency and severity of the attacks. It will help improve the person’s overall quality of life.

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen
  • Triptans: Triptans are a type of prescription medication designed to treat migraines.
  • Ergots: Ergotamine-based medications, like ergotamine tartrate, can be used to treat migraines, particularly when triptans do not work.
  • Combination medications: Some medications combine a triptan with an anti-inflammatory or a pain reliever to enhance their effectiveness.

Lifestyle measures

  • Identifying and avoiding migraine triggers such as certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, and environmental factors, can help reduce the frequency of attacks.
  • Practising relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation may also help manage stress, a common trigger for migraines.
  • Maintaining regular sleep schedule and getting enough restful sleep can also play a role in managing migraines.
  • Keeping a headache diary to track triggers and symptoms can provide valuable insights for better management.

Consult your doctor to know what would work best for your condition and help reduce the symptoms. Only take medication after consulting a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate management.

Migraine Related FAQs

How long does a migraine headache last?

Most migraine episodes last several minutes to a few years and can last up to 3 days. However, it generally varies from one person to another and the type of migraine that has affected you.

Is migraine treatable?

While there is no cure for migraine, proper medication and making lifestyle changes can help reduce the severity of migraine attacks. Also, try to avoid triggers of migraine that make your headache worse.

Do migraines get worse with age?

Migraines can start at a young age, and get active during adulthood. People between the ages of 20-40 are at higher risk of experiencing severe migraine attacks. However, the symptoms may reduce significantly after the age of 45.

Are migraines common in children too?

Migraines can affect children but they may not last as long as they would in an adult. Plus, kids usually get a stomach ache instead of a headache when migraines affect them.

Tools recommended for your fitness journey