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Migraine headaches are usually characterized by severe pain on one or both sides of the head, an upset stomach, and, at times, disturbed vision.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke)

About Migraine

A migraine is not the same as a normal headache. Most people have headaches from time to time. These are usually tension headaches. Migraines, though, are sudden and strong, pounding headaches on one side of the head. They can greatly affect everyday life. Some people only have occasional migraines, but others have them every month for several days at a time.


Migraines are typically moderate to severe headaches that only affect one side of the head. They usually come on very suddenly and are described as throbbing or pounding headaches. The pain is often made worse by physical activity or even just a little movement. If left untreated, migraines last between four hours and three days, and may be associated with nausea and vomiting. Some people become extremely sensitive to sound and light during migraine attacks.

Before their actual migraine symptoms become noticeable, some people see flashing lights and strange shapes, or their vision is distorted. For example, they might see everything as a blur or through wavy lines... Read more about Migraine

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Migraine in Children: Preventive Pharmacologic Treatments [Internet]

To assess the comparative effectiveness and safety of preventive pharmacologic treatments for community-dwelling children with episodic or chronic migraine.

Acute Migraine Treatment in Emergency Settings [Internet]

To compare the effectiveness and safety of parenteral pharmacological interventions to treat migraine headaches in adults presenting to the emergency department (ED).

Migraine in Adults: Preventive Pharmacologic Treatments [Internet]

To assess comparative effectiveness and safety of preventive pharmacologic treatments for community-dwelling adults with episodic or chronic migraine.

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Summaries for consumers

Migraine diary

The best way to track down your migraine triggers is to keep a diary or log of your migraine attacks for a few weeks or months.On days you have had a migraine attack you can answer the following questions:What was happening at about the time you started having the migraine? For example:Did you feel stressed out?Had you gotten enough sleep,or eaten something out of the ordinary?When did you have a migraine today?morningnoonafternoonnighttimeHow long did the migraine last?__ hoursHow severe was the pain?mildmediumsevereDid you take any medication? (If so: what kind and how much)noyes, type:

Signs of migraine and other types of headaches

There are several different types of headaches referred to as "primary" headaches. Primary headaches are headaches that happen on their own: They are not caused by something else, such as an illness or hitting your head.These are the major types of primary headache:Tension-type headache:The pain feels like pressing or tightening and is on both sides of the head.The pain is light to moderate.The headaches last anywhere from 30 minutes to several days.They do not usually happen more than once a month.The headache does not cause nausea, but might cause sensitivity to light.Physical activity does not make the headache worse.This is the most common type of headache. People who have migraines might get these as well.Cluster headache:Searing or piercing pain around the eye on one side of the head. The headaches are usually on the same side of the head.The pain is severe.The headaches last from 15 minutes to 3 hours.They happen very often: every other day, and usually several times a day.Besides pain inside the head, it may cause a stuffy nose, watery eyes and other nose and eye symptoms.Cluster headaches are not common, and men are more likely than women to have them.Migraine:A migraine attack is associated with an intense pulsing, pounding or throbbing pain, concentrated at the front of the head and usually on one side – but not always the same side.The pain is moderate to severe.In teenagers and adults, the headaches last for at least four hours and up to three days. In children they last at least two hours and may go away more quickly.The headache needs to have occurred more than five times to be considered a migraine. Migraines are sometimes more common during menstruation (a woman's period).Besides pain, a migraine usually causes sensitivity to light and/or sound. Migraines are often associated with nausea.There may or not be symptoms called "auras": These are flashing lights or other visual abnormalities, and they could happen before or during the migraine. Not all migraines have auras.Physical activity usually makes the headache worse.They are not as common as tension headaches, but they affect many children and adults. Migraines are more likely to affect women.A person who has a migraine often needs to lie down somewhere dark and quiet and lie down to get away from light, sounds and movement. This is one of the main differences between migraines and other types of headaches.Children with migraines will usually avoid bright light, and they might be pale, feel nauseous and have to vomit. They may also have abdominal (lower belly) pain that lasts between 1 hour and 3 days. This is often called "abdominal migraine," although not all doctors and researchers agree that there is a separate type of migraine in children that mostly causes abdominal pain instead of headache in children.

Can taking medications or herbal products prevent migraine attacks in children and teenagers?

There is weak evidence that some medications can prevent migraines in children and teenagers. In Germany these drugs are not approved for use in children and teenagers because not enough research has been done on their safety and effectiveness.

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Terms to know

An aura is a perceptual disturbance experienced by some with migraine or seizures before either the headache or seizure begins.
Head pain or discomfort.
A feeling of sickness or discomfort in the stomach that may come with an urge to vomit.
Primary Headaches
Headaches that occur on their own with no detectable underlying cause, such as migraine.

More about Migraine

Photo of an adult woman

Also called: Migraine disorder, Migraine headache, Migraine attack, Sick headache

See Also: Cluster Headache, Tension-Type Headache

Other terms to know: See all 4
Aura, Headache, Nausea

Related articles:
Signs of Migraine and Other Types of Headaches
Migraine Diary
Migraine Information for Children and Teenagers

Keep up with systematic reviews on Migraine:


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