Primary headaches are caused by problems with the pain-sensitive structures in your head, including the muscles, nerves, or blood vessels in your head or the chemical activity in your brain. Unlike secondary headaches, which are brought on by a condition or illness, primary headaches are not a sign of an underlying health problem.
The three main types of primary headaches are:
Migraine headaches usually last for a few hours to several days. People who have chronic migraines often find that they interfere with daily life.
Migraines usually cause a severe pulsing sensation on one side of the head, and they’re often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Most migraines progress through four distinct stages, but you may not experience each stage every time.
Prodrome: During the first stage, which occurs about a day before a migraine strikes, usually includes subtle bodily changes that signal an impending attack, such as mood changes or neck stiffness.
Aura: This stage can occur before or during a migraine. It includes visual disturbances, such as seeing bright spots or flashes of light, and may also include a temporary loss of vision, pins and needles sensation in a limb, or facial weakness.
Attack: The migraine itself can last anywhere from four to 72 hours, causing pain on one or both sides of your head, blurred vision, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea or vomiting.
Post-drome: In the final stage, you may experience weakness, moodiness, dizziness, or confusion.
Although researchers don’t understand exactly what causes the pain-sensitive structures in your head to react, migraines are known to be triggered by several factors, including:
After your neurologist definitively diagnoses your migraines based on your symptoms, family and medical history, physical exam, and neurological assessment, you’ll begin a customized treatment plan.
Depending on your overall health and the frequency and severity of your headaches, your treatment plan may include pain-relief medications that you can take during a migraine attack, or preventive medications that aim to reduce the frequency or severity of your headaches.
Other effective treatment strategies include avoiding known triggers and using botulinum toxin, or Botox®, to reduce occurrence.