There is no specific test to diagnose a migraine headache. If you seek help from your health care provider for recurring headaches, you may be asked to keep a headache diary in which you record information about symptoms leading up to a headache, symptoms of the actual headache, and possible triggers that may have provoked the episode.
Your health care provider will want to take a careful history to determine any patterns to your headaches and to learn whether such headaches run in your family. He or she will also perform a careful physical exam to make sure you don't have any other symptoms or signs that point to another problem as the source of your headaches.
About 1 out of 8 Americans has migraines. They usually begin during the teenage years. After puberty, migraines are more likely to affect girls and women.
Experts still aren't sure what causes these headaches. But they seem to involve a wave of unusual activity in brain nerve cells, along with changes in blood flow in the brain.
Though migraines can trigger severe pain in the head, they aren't simply headaches. They often also cause other uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
There are two main approaches to migraine treatment. The first is stopping (aborting) an acute attack, if possible, or at least controlling the pain and nausea. The second approach is preventing future attacks.
Stopping Acute Migraine Pain
In abortive therapy, it's important to take medication at the first sign a migraine is coming. So, if you have an aura or other symptoms before the headache starts, take the medicine then. Many drugs can help, but the leading ones are called triptans. They come in different forms including dissolvable pills, regular pills, skin patches, and nasal spray. They include Imitrex, Zomig, Maxalt, and others. People respond differently, and one of these drugs may work better for you.
Ergot alkaloids are another class of drug that can be used to abort a migraine. The most popular one is dihydroergotamine (DHE). It is available as a nasal spray or an injection. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ketoprophen, Advil, or Motrin, may also stop a migraine attack. Often, doctors recommend taking antinausea drugs such as Reglan or Phenergan as well.
Your doctor may suggest the Cerena Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator (TMS), a prescription device placed on the back of the head at the onset of a migraine with aura. It then releases a pulse of magnetic energy and stimulates part of the brain, which may stop or lessen pain.
During an acute episode of migraine headache, you'll probably be most comfortable lying down in a darkened, quiet room and trying to sleep. A cold pack on your head may feel comforting. If you are unable to take medications by mouth or your symptoms don't improve, you may need to go to a hospital for treatment.