Migraine vs. headache

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A migraine episode is different from a typical headache. The experience is different, and they can have different causes.

Keeping a diary of symptoms can help a person and their doctor identify a migraine episode. Keep the journal for at least 8 weeks, and record the following.

  • the time that symptoms start
  • possible triggers, such as stress or menstruation
  • the nature of the headache
  • any other symptoms
  • how long symptoms last
  • any noticeable indicators of migraine, such as aura
  • any medications used and the effect that they had

Causes and triggers

Experts do not know what causes migraine episodes. They may stem from changes in the brain that affect the:

  • way nerves communicate
  • balance of chemicals
  • blood vessels

Genetic features may also play a role, as having a family history trusted source of migraine is a common risk factor.

Migraine triggers vary but include:

  • Hormonal changes, for example, around the time of menstruation.
  • Emotional triggers, such as stress, depression anxiety and excitement.
  • Dietary factors, including alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, and foods containing the additive tyramine.
  • Medications, such as sleeping pills, hormone replacement therapy, and some birth control pills.
  • Environmental factors, including flickering screens, strong smells, secondhand smoke, loud noises, stuffy rooms, temperature changes, and bright lights.

Some other possible triggers include:

  • tiredness
  • a lack of sleep
  • shoulder and neck tension
  • poor posture
  • physical overexertion
  • low blood sugar
  • jet lag
  • irregular mealtimes
  • dehydration

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