Types of headaches: What is a migraine?

A migraine is a primary headache disorder characterized by its tendency to recur in an individual and can range from moderate to severe if not treated. In most cases, it is one-sided, throbbing and worsened by engaging in physical activity.

This type of headache is also linked with sensitivity to sound and light as well as smell and most that are affected become nauseated. In some cases, there are also sensory or visual changes before, during or after an episode which is called as auras.


The exact cause of a migraine headache is still unknown, but they are often linked with changes in the brain as well as genetic causes. Individuals with migraines can inherit the tendency to be affected by certain triggers such as bright lights, fatigue and even weather changes.


The pain is usually throbbing or pounding and often starts as a dull ache and progresses into throbbing pain.

A migraine starts once the hyperactive nerve cells transmit impulses to the blood vessels that results to their dilation and the release of prostaglandins, serotonin and other inflammatory substances that causes sore pulsations.

Triggers for migraine

  • Being emotionally stressed out is one of the usual triggers of migraine headaches.
  • Caffeine can trigger headaches especially excessive intake or withdrawal once the level in the body abruptly drops. The blood vessels are sensitized to caffeine and if not enough is consumed, a headache occurs.
  • Sensitivity to specific preservatives and chemicals in foods. Foods and beverages such as alcoholic drinks, aged cheese and food additives might be responsible for triggering some attacks.
  • Menstruation
  • Changing weather conditions such as strong winds, barometric pressure or changes in the altitude.
  • Tension
  • Skipping out meals
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Changes in the usual sleeping pattern

Is there a hereditary link?

Migraines have the tendency to run in families. In case one parent has a history of the condition, the child has a 50% chance of developing one. If both parents have a history, the risk is increased.


  • The pain is usually throbbing or pounding and often starts as a dull ache and progresses into throbbing pain. In most cases, the pain is worsened by physical activity.
  • The pain can be described as mild, moderate or severe. If left untreated, it can become moderate to severe.
  • The pain can shift from one side of the head to the other or it can affect the front of the head or feels as if the whole head is affected.
  • The attacks can last for about 4 hours but the severe ones can persist for up to a week.
  • The frequency varies from one individual to another. Generally, one can experience 2-4 episodes in a month. On the other hand, some experience attacks every few days while some only suffer 1-2 times in a year.


Identification of the potential triggers and avoidance can help minimize the frequency of the migraine attacks.

Proper management of stress as well as coping and relaxation techniques can help prevent or minimize the severity of the migraine attacks.


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