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  • Women are up to three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men, with this condition tending to affect them just before or after their period. Hence, migraines usually disappear when a woman becomes pregnant or reaches the post-menopausal age of her life.
  • Stress and depriving the body of sleep can both play a part in increasing the frequency and severity of migraines.
  • Treatment in the form of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a method capable of reducing or preventing the occurrence of migraines.



The term migraine refers to severe headaches which tend to affect one side of the patient’s head, usually affecting the same side each time they occur and often causing nausea alongside vomiting, as well as an increased sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can last for hours at a time. Sometimes they may be so severe as to have a significant impact on the daily life of the sufferer.

Without treatment, migraines could increase in severity and frequency at the same time as becoming more resistant to treatment, despite a range of medicated substances being prescribed.

Causes of migraines

Migraines occur due to abnormalities affecting the nervous system located in the cortical layer of the brain. The resulting irregularities in terms of chemical production affect the blood vessels, causing them to swell and expand, thereby resulting in a severe headache.

However, while migraines are categorized as a form of idiopathic brain condition, the following are some factors thought to stimulate their onset:

  • Genetics: People with a family history of the condition are likely to also suffer from migraines.
  • Age: Although migraines can affect any person of any age or gender, they do tend to become more prevalent among those aged between 25-45 years.
  • Gender: Women are up to three times more likely to suffer from migraines than their male counterparts.
  • Hormonal changes: Women usually experience migraines prior to or immediately following their period, meaning that migraines tend to disappear when a woman becomes pregnant or when she reaches post-menopausal age.
  • Birth control medication: Both birth control medication and hormonal replacement therapy could result in migraines worsening. However, it has also been found that some women’s migraines improve when taking these forms of medication.
  • Some foods and ingredients: These include, for instance, monosodium glutamate, artificial sweeteners, cheese, wine, chocolate, tea and coffee.
  • Sensory stimulation: This includes, for example, light, loud noises, strong smells and cigarette smoke.
  • Sleep deprivation and stress: Both of these factors can result in migraines occurring with greater frequency and severity.

Migraine symptoms

  • Migraines usually involve a throbbing pain affecting one side of the head. Although they may affect both sides in some cases, most people usually suffer repeated migraines on the same side.
  • Movement or shifting position can increase the severity of the migraine.
  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound and smell
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

What type of headache should require a visit to the doctor?

Migraines can last anywhere between 4-72 hours and the frequency with which they occur differ from person to person. Nevertheless, if the severity of the migraine reaches a level whereby it begins to affect your daily life, or you suffer from any of the following symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • A headache that comes on suddenly and severely, resembling an electric shock.
  • A headache alongside a fever and confusion that does not go away despite medicating with drugs, such as paracetamol.
  • Chronic headaches or headaches that worsen when coughing, exerting power or making sudden movements.
  • Severe weakness affecting one side of the body, mouth drooping, difficulty speaking and numbness throughout the body.
  • Vision irregularities, such as blurred vision, distorted vision or dark spots affecting vision.

Treating migraines

Treatments for migraines can be categorized as those abortive and preventive treatment.

Abortive Treatment

  • Pain relief drugs, including steroidal medication, or NSAIDS as they are also known, tryptan drugs or ergotamine drugs are all commonly used to treat symptoms consistent with aches and pains. However, extended periods of drug use can also lead to headaches resulting from overuse, while they could also result in a stomach ulcer.
  • Nausea relief drugs can aid patients who suffer from nausea and vomiting alongside their migraines.

Preventive Treatment

  • Preventative drugs that must be taken daily include blood pressure medication, some forms of seizure prevention drugs, and antidepressants, although doctors must ultimately make the decision as to which medication will be suited to the unique needs of the patient.
  • Filling substance injections for migraine prevention has been approved since 2010 by the U.S. FDA to treat chronic headaches that include migraine; such injections are commonly applied in most headache centers worldwide. Filling substance injections can relax muscles and halt pain signals being sent from the central nervous system to the brain, thereby offering effective results in terms of reducing painful migraines in addition to offering minimal side effects.
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been recognized by the US FDA as a valid form of treatment, with the technique being painless and not requiring any anesthesia. It can also be used to treat outpatients and only takes a mere 30-60 minutes altogether, while this method may also be repeated on consecutive occasions.
  • Regular exercise can help reduce the onset of migraines.
  • Meditation is another preventive measure.

Migraines are severe headaches that may be chronic or come and go. In either case, patients should do their best to avoid potential stimulating factors that may lead to their onset. Additionally, migraine sufferers should try to protect themselves by getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and reducing their stress levels.

When you start to feel a migraine coming on, attempt to place yourself in a dark, quiet room, close your eyes and try to rest or sleep. In addition, placing a cold compress on the nape of your neck while gently massaging the painful area could also go some way to helping reduce the aching.

However, if you experience a sudden and painful headache alongside other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, speech difficulties and numbness down one side of the body, it is recommended that you seek medical attention in order to undergo a thorough diagnosis of your condition.

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Thaninjitra Poonpedpun, M.D. Summary: Neurology Neurology