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Migraine is characterized by recurrent headaches often in association with a number of symptoms like nausea, photophobia and phonophobia. Typically the headache is unilateral, throbbing and pulsating in nature and lasts from 2 to 72 hours.


Migraine occurs in two forms. The first type is a migraine with an aura called classic migraine and the second form is a migraine without an aura called common migraine.

In the classic form of migraine, there is a phase of aura just before the headache appears. The most common aura observed is a visual aura. Patient reports of a temporary loss of vision partly or completely, flashes of light, objects appear to move, or shake. The other forms include difficulty in speaking, food cravings, getting an odd smell. Sometimes there is numbness starting from the hands and spreading upwards towards arms and gradually involving face, lips and tongue. These auras last for a few minutes before the headache appears.

The migraine without an aura presents with a unilateral or bilateral pain in head, usually beginning on the frontal or temporal side and spreading throughout the head [5]. The pain is usually pulsating or throbbing. The pain starts gradually and then becomes worse within 2 to 12 hours. Along with the head pain, symptoms such as severe nausea, vomiting, photosensitivity, blurriness of vision and sweating are also accompanied [6].

  • Adverse events included paresthesia, fatigue, nausea, and anorexia. More adverse effects occurred with the 200 mg per day dosage than with 100 mg per day. 14, 15 Comparative studies with other prophylactic agents have not been conducted.[aafp.org]
  • However, the pathophysiological concept behind this term is not undisputed and typical migraine premonitory symptoms such as fatigue and yawning, but also a typical association of attacks to circadian and menstrual cycles, all make the hypothalamus a[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • The damaged area is easily reinjured due to weakness and limited range of motion, and the muscle is also more easily fatigued.[triggerpointrelief.com]
  • […] usually lasts from four hours to three days, typically begins on one side of the head but may spread to both sides, is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound, and is sometimes preceded by an aura and is often followed by fatigue[merriam-webster.com]
  • The prodrome can consist of yawning, fluid retention, pallor, nausea, light sensitivity, or mood changes, including sadness or irritability.[britannica.com]
  • Symptoms include abdominal pain without a gastrointestinal cause (may last up to 72 hours), nausea, vomiting, and flushing or paleness (pallor). Children who have abdominal migraine often develop typical migraine as they age.[healthcommunities.com]
  • Sensitivity to light, noise and odors Nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain Loss of appetite Feeling very warm (sweating) or cold (chills) Pale color (pallor) Feeling tired Dizziness Blurred vision Tender scalp Diarrhea (rare) Fever (rare[my.clevelandclinic.org]
Nasal Discharge
  • Headache associated with acute sinusitis can occur but is regarded as being relatively rare. 3 , 5 - 8 Patients with this presentation most commonly have other clinical manifestations of sinusitis such as purulent nasal discharge and pathologic radiographic[doi.org]
  • Abstract Nausea and vomiting are a frequent accompaniment of migraine and anti-nausea medications are frequently used in its management.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • For example, one patient might have mild unilateral headache with nausea and none of the other symptoms, and another might have a severe throbbing bilateral headache without nausea but with light and sound sensitivity.[britannica.com]
  • In this study, patients chose their MBS from nausea, sensitivity to sound or sensitivity to light.[tools.wmflabs.org]
  • Nausea, vomiting, and anorexia of migraine may lead to mild to moderate thiamine deficiency and WE.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Cyclic vomiting syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion. It is important to differentiate cyclic vomiting related to migraine from nonmigraine cyclic vomiting conditions.[emedicine.com]
Abdominal Pain
  • Long term follow up of children with recurrent abdominal pain: definition of recurrent abdominal pain was not applied. BMJ 1998; 317: 682–3 PubMed CrossRef Google Scholar 15. Dodge JA. Recurrent abdominal pain in children.[doi.org]
  • Background and objectives Abdominal pain is a well-known headache-associated symptom in migraine in children, but rarely in adults.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Although not common, the most prevalent migraine equivalent is “abdominal migraine”, which is characterized by recurrent episodes of vomiting and abdominal pain without headache.[headaches.org]
  • When you're ill, be sure to continue drinking fluids, and get additional fluids if you have a fever or are vomiting or have diarrhea. Call your doctor for help with vomiting or diarrhea if necessary.[healthcentral.com]
  • Probiotics for the prevention of Clostridium difficile -associated diarrhea in adults and children.[dx.doi.org]
  • Signs and Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment Signs and symptoms of migraine headaches include: Abnormal body sensations, called paresthesias, such as tingling, numbing or prickling Diarrhea Dizziness or vertigo Nausea and vomiting Scalp tenderness Sensitivity[ucsfhealth.org]
  • Sensitivity to light, noise and odors Nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain Loss of appetite Feeling very warm (sweating) or cold (chills) Pale color (pallor) Feeling tired Dizziness Blurred vision Tender scalp Diarrhea (rare) Fever (rare[my.clevelandclinic.org]
  • Side effects of topiramate include: Weakness Fatigue Drowsiness Dizziness Confusion Difficulty concentrating Tingling of hands and feet Loss of appetite Diarrhea Impotence Weight loss The side effects associated with the herbals used for migraines include[rxlist.com]
Chronic Abdominal Pain
  • Why do children have chronic abdominal pain, and what happens to them when they grow up: population based cohort study. BMJ 1998; 316: 1196–200 PubMed CrossRef Google Scholar 14. Abu-Arafeh I.[doi.org]
Neck Pain
  • BACKGROUND: Migraineurs have a high prevalence of neck pain prior to or during headache attacks.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Compared with placebo, botulinum toxin A was associated with a greater frequency of blepharoptosis, skin tightness, paresthesias, neck stiffness, muscle weakness, and neck pain.[oadoi.org]
  • At 2 h postdose, DFN-11 was also significantly superior to placebo for freedom from photophobia (P 0.0056) and phonophobia (P 0.0167).[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Nausea, photophobia, and phonophobia were rated using a 4-point scale (0 indicates none; 1, mild; 2, moderate; and 3, severe).[archinte.jamanetwork.com]
Blurred Vision
  • Migraines often come with side effects like nausea and blurred vision, and they often affect just one side of the head. The word comes from the Greek hemi-, "half" and kranion, "skull."[vocabulary.com]
  • The effect of botulinum toxin may affect areas away from the injection site and cause serious symptoms including: loss of strength and all-over muscle weakness, double vision, blurred vision and drooping eyelids, hoarseness or change or loss of voice,[botoxchronicmigraine.com]
  • vision – 44 percent Aura – 36 percent Vomiting – 29 percent Other symptoms include: Sensitivity to smell Stiff neck Dizziness or dizzy spells Cloudy vision or other vision changes Weakness[migraine.com]
  • You should ALWAYS call your health care provider when: Your headache is accompanied by a fever Your headache persists for more than a few hours or returns frequently You are experiencing blurred vision It is ALWAYS important to let your health care provider[americanpregnancy.org]
  • Photopsia, fortification spectra, and the slow propagation of a scintillating scotoma across the visual field are typical diagnostic features of the visual aura of migraine.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • The experiments described here were performed when the phenomena which characterize the onset of an attack, namely, scotomas, blurring of vision, paresthesias and aphasia, had already passed and had been supplanted by headache.[archneurpsyc.jamanetwork.com]
Scintillating Scotoma
  • Photopsia, fortification spectra, and the slow propagation of a scintillating scotoma across the visual field are typical diagnostic features of the visual aura of migraine.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Most auras are visual and are described as bright shimmering lights around objects or at the edges of the field of vision (called scintillating scotomas) or zigzag lines, castles (teichopsia), wavy images or hallucinations.[healthcommunities.com]
  • A fortification spectrum is common or a spreading, scintillating scotoma in the shape of a jagged crescent. Geometric visual patterns and even hallucinations may occur. This is fully reversible. An aura has no motor symptoms.[patient.info]
Eye Pain
  • Some observations on headache and eye pain in a group of schoolchildren. Br Med J. 1956 May 19; 1 (4976):1138–1141. [ PMC free article ] [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ] KRAYENBUHL H, HEYCK H. The prophylactic treatment of migraine.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Eye pain, which is different from sensitivity to light, is not a common component of migraine. If eye pain is persistent, or if eye pain is present and accompanied by blurred vision or loss of vision, then prompt evaluation is recommended.[medicinenet.com]
  • Most often, the vision is affected and can include any or all of the following: Temporary blind spots or colored spots Blurred vision Eye pain Seeing stars, zigzag lines, or flashing lights Tunnel vision (only able to see objects close to the center of[nlm.nih.gov]
Tenderness of the Scalp
  • People may also experience tenderness of the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles, the Mayo Clinic outlines. Headaches are classified into two categories: episodic and chronic. Episodic tension headaches can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a week.[globalnews.ca]
  • […] of the scalp may occur as can neck stiffness.[40] Associated symptoms are less common in the elderly.[41] Rarely, an aura occurs without a subsequent headache.[32] This is known as an acephalgic migraine or silent migraine; however, it is difficult to[en.wikipedia.org]
Facial Numbness
  • Patients may also experience nausea, vomiting, anorexia, neck pain, dizziness, changes in hearing, light sensitivity, difficulty concentrating, facial numbness or weakness and other symptoms.[migrainepal.com]
  • […] in Tension Headaches Migraine Headaches Symptoms of Migraine Headaches Causes of Migraine Headaches Triggers of Migraine Headaches Trigger Points and Migraine Headaches Other Types of Migraines Cluster Headaches Symptoms of Cluster Headaches Causes and[triggerpointrelief.com]
  • […] or migrainous headache.[doi.org]
  • The term cluster headache should be used carefully as sometimes people will refer to their headaches as “cluster headaches” because they have headaches that occur in “clusters”, meaning headaches occurring back to back over subsequent days or headaches[web.archive.org]
  • Curr Pain Headache Rep 2001 ; 5: 529 – 536. Google Scholar Crossref Medline 4. Sanin, LC, Mathew, NT, Bellmeyer, LR, Ali, S. The International Headache Society (IHS) headache classification as applied to a headache clinic population.[oadoi.org]
  • The two major subtypes are common migraine (without aura) and classic migraine (with aura or neurological symptoms). (international classification of headache disorders, 2nd ed.[icd9data.com]
  • They do not differ from the other auras (even when their duration extends to 2 and/or 4 h) with the exception of a higher number of non-VS. KEYWORDS: Duration; Features; Headache; Migraine with aura; Prolonged Aura[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • […] migraine with aura and coronary vascular events.[doi.org]
  • […] haemorrhagic stroke Chang 1999 (Europe) w13 291 cases, 736 controls Women (20-44) Any, migraine with and without aura Ischaemic stroke, haemorrhagic stroke, total stroke Donaghy 2002 (Europe) w14 86 cases, 214 controls Women (20-44) Migraine with and[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Stroke 2004, 35 :1574–1578. PubMed CrossRef Google Scholar 27. Milhaud D, Bogousslavsky J, van Melle G, Liot P: Ischemic stroke and active migraine. Neurology 2001, 57 :1805–1811. PubMed Google Scholar 28.[oadoi.org]
  • Author information 1 Balance Disorders and Ataxia Service, The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, Melbourne, Australia; Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Melbourne, Australia; Dizzy Day Clinic, Melbourne, Australia.[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • The figure above shows the distribution of migraine with dizziness in a subset of patients from the dizziness practice of the author.[dizziness-and-balance.com]
  • A vestibular migraine can cause vertigo, dizziness, nausea and vomiting with or without the throbbing headache that is typical of most migraines .[hopkinsmedicine.org]
  • Migraine and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a functional bowel disorder characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, discomfort, and marked changes in bowel habits as described in the ROME III criteria ( 34 ).[ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
  • Childhood recurrent abdominal pain and subsequent adult irritable bowel syndrome. J Dev Behav Pediatr 1999; 20: 318–9 PubMed CrossRef Google Scholar 27. Burke P, Elliott M, Fleissner R.[doi.org]


Migraine is diagnosed clinically [9]. Blood tests are not usually helpful. An MRI is only advised in cases where the auras are prolonged and persistent or in cases of post traumatic migraine. MRI detects white mater abnormalities.


Acute attacks are treated with drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Other sets of drugs include class of triptans like zolmitriptan, almotriptan and frovatriptan. Certain ergot derivatives such as ergotamine and tartrate also help in treating migraine. They are contraindicated in patients with underlying heart disease or high blood pressure.

The acute treatment lasts for maximum 2 to 3 days per week. For nausea or vomiting, nasal sprays, rectal or parenteral forms of medications are used. In case of rebound headaches, opioid combinations, butalbital and butorphanol nasal sprays and combinations are used [4] [6].


The prognosis of migraine is variable and is poorly studied. The long term prognosis studied of a recent population showed 10% complete remission and 84% of partial remission. It was also found that the remission occurs as the age progresses and psychological makeup of the individual highly influences the persistence of the migraine with regards to its frequency and intensity [4].


Though the exact cause for migraine remains unknown, there are certain theories postulated as its probable causes. The most common factor thought to initiate migraine is a complex dysfunction within the central nervous system. The neurotransmitter called serotonin is an important factor causing this dysfunction. It was observed that patients with migraine have significantly low levels of serotonin in their brains. Also, studies confirm that people on antidepressants tend to have a rise in serotonin levels which reduces the frequency of migraine.

Another factor is melatonin. Melatonin is an active metabolite of serotonin. Deficiency of this metabolite triggers migraines. A genetic link confirms the inheritance of the disease. It has been confirmed that individuals having a DNA variant on chromosome 8 between genes called PGCP and MTDH/AEG-1 has been related to carry a greater risk of migraine. The estimated theory for the pathogenesis is that a neurotransmitter called glutamate regulated by the DNA variant gets accumulated in the brain resulting into migraine.

Finally, the trigger factors which contribute to the cause of these attacks are dietary factors which include irregular meals, fasting for long hours, having cheese, chocolates, caffeine, foods containing an ingredient called tyramine, and certain citrus fruits.

Environmental factors include loud noises, strong smell exposure, direct exposure to glaring lights or VDU screens, red wine, head trauma, motion sickness, weather changes, cold stimulus such as ice creams and smoke. Psychological factors include excess stress, anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep. Certain medications linked with migraine triggers include oral contraceptive pills [1].

Migraine also affects women in large proportion suggesting a hormonal link. The drop in estrogen level at the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle appears to be the likely trigger to migraine.


The average prevalence of migraine in a year is about 18% in women and 6% in males. Statistics reveal that the age in which migraine attacks are commonly observed is between 25 to 50 years. Attacks before the age of 20 years are accounted to be 50% and that above 50 years are barely 2%.

Individuals with a positive family history are at a greater risk of suffering from migraine, its incidence being 70%. Lifetime prevalence accounts to 20% in females and 8% in males. In the United States, the prevalence among the low income groups is more than those with a high income. It is common amongst the Canadians, fair among the African Americans and lowest among the Asian Americans [2].

Sex distribution
Age distribution


During the twentieth century, vascular dysregulation was believed to result in migraine. According to this hypothesis, transient vasoconstriction of the blood vessels resulted into aura, preceding migraine and the actual pain resulted due to rebound vasodilatation. This hypothesis had evidence based on certain vasodilating drugs such as nitroglycerin, which caused pain and vasoconstrictor drugs like ergotamine which relieved the attack.

Currently, neuronal dysfunction is considered as the most possible primary factor in the pathophysiology of migraine. This includes activation of trigeminovascular system, cortical spreading depression and neuronal sensitization.

Activation of trigeminovascular system: It involves sensory neurons from the trigeminal ganglion and upper cervical dorsal roots. These innervate the dural vascular structures such as the Dura mater and cerebral vessels [3]. These nerve fibers then ascend from the trigeminal nucleus to the sensory cortex via the thalamus. Thereafter, the pain occurs in the regions supplied by the trigeminal nerve.

Cortical spreading depression: This self-propagated wave spreads slowly across the entire span of the cerebral cortex reducing the bionueronal activity. It leads to inflammatory changes by activating the neurons in the trigeminal nucleus caudalis. This produces headache via the reflex actions of the central and peripheral nervous systems.

Neuronal sensitization: This is a process in which the neurons become responsive to both nociceptive and non-nociceptive stimulation. Pain is caused due to peripheral sensitization in the primary afferent neuron and central sensitization of the higher order neurons of the spinal cord [4].


There are some medicines which help prevent the attacks of migraine. These include beta blockers such as propanolol and timolol, calcium channel blockers like verapamil and antidepressants such as amitripyline or venlafaxine [7]. The general principle observed while giving a prophylactic is to start slow and increase the dose gradually and to get a trial of 2 to 3 months done before administration.

Certain lifestyle changes are highly recommended, in order to reduce and prevents the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks [8]. These include eating healthy foods, maintaining adequate amount of sleep daily without altering its timings, to avoid any conditions which are known to trigger migraine, reduce alcohol, meditation and limiting stress and worry [10] [11].


The word migraine is derived from a Greek word hemikrainia. This term was translated to French and called migraine.

Migraine is a chronic nervous system disorder characterized by recurrent headaches, intense in character. About 28 million people in United States suffer from migraine. About 25% of migraine sufferers experience a pre-migraine phenomenon called aura.

Patient Information

A migraine comprises of an intense unbearable headache which is throbbing and pulsating in character. This is usually accompanied by sensation of nausea, vomiting and a heightened sensitivity to light with or without audio-visual disturbances.

The migraine attacks can stay for few minutes to hours or even for days together. Some of these attacks are preceded by aura such as flashes of light before eyes, altered consciousness or numbness of limbs. Stress, fasting for long hours, lack of sleep are found to trigger migraine. Hence these lifestyle changes are advised to prevent migraine [11]. Diagnostic tests are of little use in diagnosing a migraine and prognosis is generally good.



  1. Allais G, Gabellari IC, De Lorenzo C, Mana O, Benedetto C. Oral contraceptives in migraine. Expert Rev Neurother. Mar 2009;9(3):381-93.
  2. Cutrer, FM. Pathophysiology of migraine. Semin Neurol. 2010 Apr; 30(2):120-30.
  3. Spierings EL. Pathogenesis of the migraine attack. Clin J Pain. 2003 Jul-Aug;19(4):255-62.
  4. Stewart WF, Lipton RB, Celentano DD, Reed ML. Prevalence of Migraine Headache in the United States Relation to Age, Income, Race, and Other Sociodemographic Factors. JAMA. 1992;267(1):64-69.
  5. Pietrobon D, Striessnig J. Neurobiology of migraine. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2003 May 1; 4(5)386–398.
  6. Skaer TL. Clinical presentation and treatment of migraine. Clin THer. 1996 Mar-Apr;18(2):229-45; discussion 228.
  7. Silberstein SD, Holland S, Freitag F, Dodick DW, Argoff C, Ashman E. Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society. Evidence-based guideline update: pharmacologic treatment for episodic migraine prevention in adults. Neurology. 2012 Apr 24;78(17):1337-45.
  8. Elrington G. Migraine: diagnosis and management. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2002 Jun; 72 Suppl 2:ii10-ii15.
  9. Hildreth CJ, Lynm C, Glass RM. Migraine Headache. JAMA. 2009 June 24; 301(24).
  10. Goadsby PJ. Stress and migraine: something expected, something unexpected. Neurology. 2014 April 22;82(16)1388-9.
  11. Lipton RB, Buse DC, Hall CB, Tennen H. Reduction in perceived stress as a migraine trigger Testing the “let-down headache” hypothesis. Neurology. 2014 April 22; 82(16): 1395-1401.

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Last updated: 2019-07-11 22:46