Migraine 101: Is Your Headache a Migraine?

Nearly 39 million people in the United States get migraines annually. Neuroinflammatory brain conditions cause migraines. They are not the same as headaches, which are just one of the many possible migraine symptoms.

Headaches Versus Migraines

Migraines can be more challenging to control than tension headaches, which you can alleviate with over-the-counter drugs like paracetamol and ibuprofen. In addition, they pose a few more characteristic symptoms, such as exhaustion, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. For instance, a person suffering from a migraine will often choose to stay in a dark, quiet area and be less inclined to use the stairs. These are only some of the most typical manifestations.

A migraine attack may last for a few hours or several days, and the resulting pain can be severe enough to make everyday life difficult to manage. Some patients have a warning sign known as an aura before or with the headache.

The Four Stages of a Migraine

Migraines, which can strike people of any age, have four distinct phases: the prodrome, the aura, the attack and the post-drome. However, not everyone who gets a migraine goes through each stage.


Some people experience subtle changes in the hours or even days leading up to a migraine that serve as warning signs, such as:

  • Constipation
  • Food cravings
  • Lack of appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Fluid retention
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Severe thirst
  • Being sensitive to sound, light or smell
  • Mood changes (depression or euphoria)
  • Frequent yawning
  • Fatigue
  • Neck stiffness


Certain people can experience auras before, during or even after migraine attacks. Auras are neurological symptoms that can be treated and disappear with time. Although they are typically visible, these anomalies can also take on other forms. Each sign typically starts mild, worsens over several minutes and finally peaks after an hour. Aura symptom examples include:

  • Vision loss
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Pins and needles sensation in legs and arms
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body or in the face
  • Having legs and arms that feel heavy
  • Visual phenomenon (bright or black spots, wavy lines, shapes that are not there, tunnel vision, flashes of light, etc.)
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Changes in taste, smell and touch


Migraines start as a dull ache and worsen, sometimes becoming an unbearable pain. Exercise intensifies it. Your head may hurt on one side, in the front or all around.

Four-fifths of headache sufferers have nausea and half vomit. Many also become pallid, clammy or faint.

Migraines typically last four hours, but severe ones can last for days. Two to four monthly headaches are common, but some get them only once or twice a year.


Migraines can leave you exhausted, bewildered, and disoriented for a day. Some feel elated. Head movement may temporarily re-induce pain. This stage can last a day following an attack. Additional symptoms include muscle weakness or pain and lack of appetite or food cravings.

How to Lower Your Risk of Migraines

Migraines are inherited and incurable. Therefore, we may take a management and empowerment stance when dealing with your migraines, beginning with a focus on how your daily habits may be contributing to your condition. For example, is your job too stressful or do menstrual hormones induce headaches? Perhaps you are dehydrated or sleeping poorly.

Next, a balanced diet is crucial. Migraine management requires avoiding processed foods, alcohol, caffeine and nitrates.

If you have migraines, record your episodes and treatments, then consult Foothills Neurology about your headaches. Our skilled neurologists and physicians keep up with neurology developments and employ cutting-edge diagnostics.

Foothills Neurology treats migraines by looking at their symptoms and what causes them. Once they find the cause, they can make a treatment plan that is right for you. Contact us so we can help you improve your quality of life today.


Foothills Neurology