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Recognizing A Migraine Headache

Updated on February 10, 2011

Headaches of any kind can be quite painful. However, with a migraine, the pain goes above and beyond anything that you might have previously experienced. How can you tell if your headache can be called a migraine headache? Here ís an explanation of how to distinguish between a regular headache and a migraine headache.

Headaches as most of us know them are characterized by a throbbing or pressure in our heads. The pain comes on slow, then gets worse if left untreated. This pain can continue for hours until we discover the cause of the pain and resolve it. Most of us can get through a day with a normal headache. A few pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs and we're good to go.

Migraines are often described as a chronic pain, a regular episode each week, month, or even year. Each episode can last for hours or, in some cases, for days. The pain can occur on either side of the head or both at the same time, or switch from one side to the other. The pain is more like a stabbing sensation along with throbbing. Many migraine sufferers report stabbing pain in their eyes and temples. With such intense pain, migraines can interfere with work, home life, and even the ability to think clearly.

The migraine headache sufferer is sometimes completely debilitated by the pain.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of migraine headaches is the first step to getting relief.  Here is a basic overview of what constitutes a migraine:

Warning signs of an approaching migraine headache

There are warning signs that a migraine is about to occur which, when recognized, can aid in the diagnosis and relief of a migraine. The term used for this announcement that a migraine is coming is  prodrome. The term 'migraine with aura' of used typically to refer to a migraine episode in a person who often experiences an aura before a migraine headache. These signs may occur hours or as much as a day before the onset of the actual migraine headache.

People have reported seeing auras, which are visual disturbances, before a migraine develops.Auras that affect your vision can include:

  • flashes of light
  • blind spots (like looking directly at the sun)
  • shiny spots or stars
  • zigzag pattern

There may also be auras creating other sensory disturbances. These auras affect a wide range of areas such as:

  • numbness
  • tingling
  • problems with speech

Other warning signs which are not classified as auras are more common; and, because they are common, these warning signs are often missed by the migraine sufferer. These warning signs can include:

  • irritability
  • depression
  • increased energy
  • unusual thirst
  • sweet cravings

Symptoms of a migraine headache

What happens if you don't recognize the warning signs that a migraine is coming? How will you know what you are experiencing is actually a migraine headache? The symptoms of migraines are distinctive from other headaches. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be suffering from a migraine headache:

  • intense stabbing pain
  • nausea with or without vomiting
  • sensitivity to light
  • sensitivity to sound
  • sensitivity to certain odors
  • sudden onset of pain

Unlike ordinary headaches, migraines often come on full tilt. Their intensity is great from the beginning. Exposure to bright lights, as well as physical activity can increase the pain. If you close yourself off in a dark, quiet room, and your headache lessens, you may be experiencing a migraine.
Without definite symptoms and warning signs, some people miss the migraine diagnosis. If you suspect you may be suffering from migraine headaches, pay attention to see if any of these symptoms ring true for you.

Treating a migraine headache at the first warning signs often increases the chance of a faster recovery. That is why recognizing the warning signs and symptoms of a migraine is the first step to pain relief.


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