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Quiz: Migraine Myths and Facts

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If you don't see an "aura" or flashing lights, you're not having a migraine.

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If you don't see an "aura" or flashing lights, you're not having a migraine.

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Some people see an "aura" of flashing lights or spots before or during their migraine pain. The aura also can be a blind spot, changes in vision, or wavy or jagged lines. Auras are usually visual, but can affect other senses -- like ears ringing, changes in taste, smell, or touch, or just a general "funny feeling." About 15% to 20% of people who get migraines see auras with their headaches. They usually last from about 15 minutes to an hour.

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Migraines are usually felt on just one side of the head.

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Migraines are usually felt on just one side of the head.

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


Migraines can start any time of day or can wake you up in the middle of the night because the pain is so bad. They can last four 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 contain a natural substance called tyramine may trigger a migraine. Watch out for aged cheese, bananas, yogurt, fresh-baked breads, processed meats, and dried fruits. You also may want to stay away from caffeine, chocolate, MSG, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, and meat with nitrites.

You're more likely to get a migraine if you're a woman.

You're more likely to get a migraine if you're a woman.

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If you're a woman, it's bad news on the headache front. Of all people who get migraines, about three out of four are women. In fact, the only time migraines are more common in guys is when they're young. Boys are more likely than girls to get migraines -- at least until puberty hits.

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

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

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Migraine headache pain typically starts out as a dull ache. It usually takes an hour or two for pain to build into a full-blown migraine. Sometimes, however, people can feel the beginning pains of an oncoming migraine a day or two before the headache actually starts. 


Other migraine warning symptoms might 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 migraine symptoms.

You can help prevent migraines with daily medication. 

You can help prevent migraines with daily medication. 

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There are a few reasons your health care provider might prescribe preventive medicine to take every day:

  • 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 various options, so your doctor might try beta-blockers, anti-seizure medicine, antidepressants, or calcium channel blockers.

The last phase of a migraine is the migraine:

The last phase of a migraine is the migraine:

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After a migraine, you may feel utterly drained of all your energy. You may feel like you're in a fog and have fatigue. You may even feel nauseated and have muscle tension. 


What you're experiencing is the final phase of the migraine, called the postdrome or "migraine hangover." It can last a day or two past the original migraine pain.

What is a common migraine trigger?

What is a common migraine trigger?

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Triggers are different for everyone who gets migraines. 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, such as birth control pills
  • Weather changes
  • Cold triggers like ice cream
  • Certain foods

You probably won't have as many migraines as you get older, and they won't hurt as much. 

You probably won't have as many migraines as you get older, and they won't hurt as much. 

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Most people who get migraines have fewer headaches and their headaches aren't as strong once they hit 40. However, this may not be the case for women going through perimenopause. If hormones are a trigger for a woman's migraines, then she could have more headaches during the period around menopause.

Your migraine medication will help with a tension headache, too.

Your migraine medication will help with a tension headache, too.

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Sometimes over-the-counter medicine that helps ease tension headaches can help migraine headaches feel better, too. But it may not work the other way around. The medicine used to treat migraine attacks may not help tension-type headaches for most people.

If someone in your family has migraines, you have a better chance of having them, too.

If someone in your family has migraines, you have a better chance of having them, too.

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

Getting enough sleep may help prevent your migraines.

Getting enough sleep may help prevent your migraines.

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For some people, a bad night's sleep can set off a migraine attack. Other lifestyle issues that can trigger a migraine include stress and skipping meals. If you know these things can bring on a migraine, work on stress reduction techniques and be sure to eat healthy, stay hydrated, and sleep well.

Taking a walk every day may help prevent migraines.

Taking a walk every day may help prevent migraines.

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If you get migraines, regular exercise -- like swimming or taking a walk every day -- can help prevent them. Regular aerobic exercise helps control stress, which can trigger migraines in many people. For some people, though, exercise can actually trigger a headache.

If you have migraines, you may have a higher risk for stroke or heart attack.

If you have migraines, you may have a higher risk for stroke or heart attack.

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Have migraines? Watch your heart. Women who have migraines with aura have a 91% greater risk of having a heart attack and a 108% greater risk of having a stroke. Having migraines without aura raises the risk of heart attack and stroke by 25% in women. If you have migraines with aura, make sure to talk to your health care provider about what you can do to keep your heart healthy.

If you have a sudden severe headache and numbness or weakness on one side of the body, you should: 

If you have a sudden severe headache and numbness or weakness on one side of the body, you should: 

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If your headache comes on suddenly and you also have serious symptoms -- like numbness or weakness on one side of your body, confusion, trouble speaking, dizziness, or balance problems -- you could be having a stroke, not a migraine. It's important to get emergency help ASAP. Also get emergency help immediately if you have a severe headache and a sudden stiff neck or fever, if your headache develops after a trauma, or if it feels like the worst headache you've ever had.

Alternative treatments may help migraine pain.

Alternative treatments may help migraine pain.

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Research shows that biofeedback -- influencing body functions, like heart rate, using your mind -- and behavioral therapy can help prevent migraines. The herbs butterbur and feverfew may help prevent migraines. And taking riboflavin (vitamin B2) supplements seems to help lower the number of migraines someone has and how painful they are.


Some people also try massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, and relaxation training to try to prevent or relieve migraine pain. Sometimes a combination of medication and alternative therapy may work. Talk with your health care provider about what may be right for you.

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