Living With Migraines: What are They, and How are They Treated?

June 17, 2024

Living with migraines can be a struggle. As much as 12 percent of the general population suffers from migraines, making it a common issue for many people.

A migraine is usually thought of as a type of headache. They usually begin as a dull ache that often spirals into intense, pulsating pain. Migraines can last anywhere between a few hours and a few days and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness and extreme sensitivity to light and sounds.

Mercy doctor's coat Shay Barfield, APRN, says migraines begin gradually, with pain described as pulsating.

Shay Barfield, APRN, with Mercy Clinic Primary Care – Tower West in Fort Smith says the onset of a migraine can begin with different auras or phases, including visual, sensory, language or motor disturbances. Visual disturbances are the most common type of aura and may include loss of part of the visual field, flashes of light or a zigzag appearance in the visual field. Sensory disturbances are usually a tingling or numb feeling that may be accompanied by weakness, while language disturbances can be slight wording difficulty to slurring or mumbling of speech. Motor disturbances are experienced as weakness of the face or limb. 

“Any of these start gradually and are considered a warning of an impending migraine,” Barfield says. “These symptoms will fully resolve after the migraine resolves, although some resolve prior to the migraine pain going away.” 

Migraines are different from the other types of headaches in that the pain is usually on one side of the head, only to the front of the head, or the entire head, Barfield says. Migraines begin gradually, with pain described as pulsating. The pain is moderate to severe and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Body movement makes the pain worse, she says. A type of migraine that is more common among children is known as an abdominal migraine, which causes abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. 

Mercy doctor's coat Common migraine triggers can include emotional stress, weather, not eating and more.

What are some common migraine triggers?

Common migraine triggers can include emotional stress; hormones in females; not eating; weather; sleep disturbances; and odors, among other triggers. Poor sleep quality or sleep disturbances in general have been associated with increased numbers of days with migraines, Barfield says.

Barfield suggest migraine sufferers keep a headache journal to be able to determine their own migraine triggers. According to migrainedisorders.org, there are a wide variety of comorbidities that can contribute to the likelihood of experiencing migraines, including obesity, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, stroke, Celiac Disease and much more.

What if you feel a migraine coming on?

Some people become aware of the very early signs or symptoms of their own specific migraine such as increased yawning, euphoria, depression, irritability, food cravings, constipation and neck stiffness, Barfield says. If you feel a migraine coming on, she suggests taking an over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Excedrin. Other suggestions include maintaining a regular sleep routine; not skipping meals (and making sure you’re getting enough protein, leafy greens and vegetables); cutting down on caffeine; staying hydrated; and exercising. Another way migraines are different from other headache types is the migraine sufferer will want to lay down in a dark, quiet room, Barfield adds.

If you think you’re experiencing migraines, you may be able to treat them before being diagnosed by a doctor, Barfield says, depending on the severity of the headaches you are having and whether OTC treatments are able to treat the migraine in an hour or two. If your migraines include severe symptoms such as nausea or vomiting and last for more than 2-4 hours, reach out to your primary care physician for help.

Find additional patient information and resources at migrainedisorders.org.