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Quiz: Migraine Myths and Facts

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If you don't see flashing lights, or an "aura," it isn’t a migraine.

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If you don't see flashing lights, or an "aura," it isn’t a migraine.

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Aura is a broad term for how a migraine affects your senses before or during a headache. Not everybody has one. Those who do might see flashing lights, spots, or wavy or jagged lines. Auras can affect your other senses, too. They might make your ears ring, change the way things taste, smell, or feel, or just give you an overall funny feeling. They can last from 15 minutes to an hour.

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You only feel a migraine on one side of your head.

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You only feel a migraine on one side of your head.

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Unlike most headaches, migraines usually strike on one side of your head. But they don’t always stay still. The pain can move from side to side. Most people describe the pain as throbbing or pounding.

 

Migraines can start any time of day, or they can wake you up in the middle of the night. They can last 4 hours or longer. A really bad migraine can last as long as a week.

Which food is a common migraine trigger? 

Which food is a common migraine trigger? 

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Some foods that have a natural substance called tyramine may trigger a migraine. Watch out for aged cheese, processed meats, and fermented foods like soy sauce and sauerkraut. There’s no “migraine diet,” but after a while you’ll know if certain foods trigger headaches for you. It might help to avoid foods and drinks with caffeine, chocolate, MSG, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and meat with nitrites.

Women are more likely to get migraines.

Women are more likely to get migraines.

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About 3 out of every 4 people who get migraines are women. In fact, the only time migraines are more common in guys is when they're young -- before puberty hits.

How long does it typically take migraine pain to build up?

How long does it typically take migraine pain to build up?

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Migraine pain typically starts out as a dull ache. It can take an hour or 2 to build into a full-blown headache. Some people can feel an oncoming migraine a day or 2 before it starts.

 

Other warning symptoms include sensitivity to light, sound, and smells, as well as mood changes. Because most migraine medicines work best when taken early, it's a good idea to take medicine as soon as you feel a headache coming on.

Daily medication can help prevent migraines.

Daily medication can help prevent migraines.

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Your doctor might prescribe daily preventive medicine if:

  • You get two or more migraines a month.
  • Your attacks last more than 24 hours.
  • Your headaches disrupt your lifestyle for days at a time.
  • You usually use migraine treatment medicine more than twice a week.
  • The medicine you use to treat migraine attacks doesn't work.

There are different kinds of daily preventive medicines, so ask your doctor about your options. Many of these drugs are also used to treat high blood pressure, seizures, and depression. 

The last phase of a headache is known as the migraine:

The last phase of a headache is known as the migraine:

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After a migraine, you may feel drained, like you're in a fog, or fatigued. You might be nauseated and have muscle tension.

 

This is the final phase of the migraine, called the "migraine hangover" or postdrome. It can last a day or 2 past the original headache.

Which is a common migraine trigger?

Which is a common migraine trigger?

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Everyone has different migraine triggers. Here are some common ones:

  • Strong smells, like perfumes and detergents
  • Hormonal changes (menstruation, pregnancy, and ovulation)
  • Bright or fluorescent lights
  • Stress or fatigue
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Some medications, like control pills
  • Weather changes
  • Cold triggers like ice cream
  • Certain foods

 

You’ll have fewer migraines as you get older, and they won't hurt as much.

You’ll have fewer migraines as you get older, and they won't hurt as much.

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For most people, migraines peak between 35 and 40, then taper off and weaken after that. This may not be the case if you’re a woman going through perimenopause. If hormones are a trigger, you could have more headaches during this time.

Your migraine medication will help a tension headache, too.

Your migraine medication will help a tension headache, too.

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Sometimes over-the-counter medicines that ease tension headaches can help migraines. But migraine drugs don’t usually relieve other kinds of headaches.

If a family member has migraines, you’re more likely to get them.

If a family member has migraines, you’re more likely to get them.

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Got migraines? There's a good chance you can blame your family. About 4 out of 5 people with migraines have a relative who gets them, too. If one of your parents has them, you have a 50% chance of getting them. If both parents have them, you have a 75% chance.

Lack of sleep can trigger a headache.

Lack of sleep can trigger a headache.

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For some people, a bad night's sleep can bring on a migraine. Other lifestyle issues that can cause a headache include stress and hunger, so don’t skip meals. If you know these things are triggers, find ways to lower your stress, and be sure to eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep.

Take a walk. It can help prevent migraines.

Take a walk. It can help prevent migraines.

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Regular exercise -- like a daily swim or walk -- can help hold off the pain. Aerobic exercise helps control stress, which can trigger migraines. If you haven’t been active for a while, go easy at first. Exercise is a headache trigger for some people.

There’s a link between migraines and heart disease and stroke.

There’s a link between migraines and heart disease and stroke.

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If you have migraines, take care of your heart. We’re not sure why, but people with migraines are slightly more prone to have heart and blood vessel disease. In particular, if you're a woman who gets migraines with aura, don't take birth control pills. They might  make stroke more likely. If you have migraines, talk to your doctor. You can help avoid a stroke if you stop smoking, control your blood pressure, and maintain a healthy weight.

Alternative treatments may help migraine pain.

Alternative treatments may help migraine pain.

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Biofeedback -- using your mind to control body functions like heart rate so you can relax -- and talk therapy can help manage migraine pain. Both are often used as part of a treatment plan.

 

The herbs butterbur and feverfew may help prevent migraines. Riboflavin (vitamin B2) supplements may help you get fewer, less painful headaches.

 

Some people also try massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, and relaxation training to try to prevent or relieve pain. Sometimes a combination of medication and alternative therapy may work. Ask your doctor what might work for you.

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