What are migraine headaches?
A migraine is a
painful, recurring headache that is accompanied by nausea; vomiting; and
sensitivity to light, sound, and sometimes smells. The throbbing headache often
occurs on only one side of your head, although the pain can shift from one side
of the head to the other or can occur on both sides. Migraines involve changes
in chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. These changes trigger pain
signals, which lead to the throbbing headache and other symptoms of
What is a migraine aura?
A typical migraine aura
may involve seeing wavy lines, spots, flashing lights, or sparks of bright or
colored lights. You may also see distortions in the shape or size of objects.
Some people experience numbness or a "pins-and-needles" sensation in their
hands just before a migraine begins.
Other less common symptoms
of an aura can include tingling or numbness around the mouth and nose or in the
arms or shoulders, temporary weakness on one side of the body, and a brief
inability to put words in the proper order or difficulty finding the right
Symptoms of an aura develop gradually over 5 to 20 minutes,
usually within the hour before a migraine headache starts. Not everyone who
suffers from migraines develops an aura.
What are common migraine triggers?
often triggered by foods, stress, or changes in your environment. Some common
migraine triggers include:
- Foods, such as chocolate, red wine,
monosodium glutamate (MSG), and caffeine.
- Getting too much or too
- Fasting or skipping meals.
- Changes in
the weather or barometric pressure.
Stress or intense emotions such as
- Strong odors such as perfume or
- Bright lights or reflected sunlight.
How effective are migraine drugs?
Preventive migraine drugs include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers,
antidepressants, and seizure medicines. These drugs work well to moderately or
significantly reduce the frequency of migraines. They may not totally eliminate
migraine attacks, however.
What are the side effects of migraine drugs?
Common side effects of preventive drugs are sleep and memory problems,
fatigue, dizziness, rapid heart rate, and sometimes sexual performance
You should not take certain migraine drugs if you have
heart disease or other heart problems or uncontrolled high blood pressure. If
you have other health conditions, be sure to talk with your doctor first before
taking a migraine drug.
Because many people who have migraines also have
depression, taking prescription medicines for both problems is common. In very
rare cases, when a triptan such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) for migraines is taken
with an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) or SNRI (selective
serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) such as fluoxetine (Prozac) or
duloxetine (Cymbalta) for depression, these medicines can cause a very rare but
serious condition called serotonin syndrome. But most people take these two
types of medicines together and have no problems. If you are worried about
serotonin syndrome, talk to your doctor.
FDA Advisories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has
advisory on antidepressant medicines and the risk of
suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines.
Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched for
warning signs of suicide. This is especially important
at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are changed.
warning on antiseizure medicines and the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts.
The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead,
people who take antiseizure medicine should be watched closely for
warning signs of suicide. People who take antiseizure
medicine and who are worried about this side effect should talk to a
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