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Here's What a Migraine Feels Like, Say Physicians

Neurologist and pain management specialist explains how to help avoid a migraine. 

Anyone who's had a migraine knows that sickening stomach feeling that can cause you to stay in bed for hours because you're too nauseous to move. Migraines can be more than just an inconvenience, they can be seriously debilitating and lay you up for days. "Migraine is a common health condition, affecting around 1 in every 5 women and around 1 in every 15 men. They usually begin in early adulthood," Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Vernon Williams, MD, a board-certified neurologist, pain management specialist, and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles who explained what a migraine feels like and how to help prevent one. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is a Migraine

woman having serious chat with her doctor

Dr Williams states, "A migraine is clinically defined as a specific type of headache that is felt more intensely, and usually has accompanying symptoms in addition to the pain felt in the head. The pain from a migraine can be very severe, and interfere with activities of daily life. Like headaches, migraines can be brief, lasting only a few hours, or the pain can stick around for several days."

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What a Migraine Feels Like

man with headache holding water

Dr. Williams says, "Usually, a combination of these symptoms will present if a migraine is to blame:

  • Pounding or throbbing pain that is moderate to severe and feels as if it is engulfing the entire head or shifting from one side of the head to the other
  • Heightened sensitivity to sounds, odors or light
  • Vision troubles including blurriness, bright/flashing dots, wavy or jagged lines
  • Abdominal problems including loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or an unsettled stomach."

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Causes of Migraines

Exhausted young tattooed business woman keeping eyes closed, touching head and suffering from the headache while sitting at her working place in the modern office

"Headaches and Migraines are caused when the blood vessels, muscles, and nerves in the head are overstimulated," says Dr. Williams. "When these pain-sensitive structures become overactive, or when chemical activity in the brain is altered, we feel the uncomfortable sensations of a headache. These changes in the brain may be the result of a number of factors." 


Migraine Triggers

dark chocolate

According to Dr. Williams, "Triggers for every patient are different, but most can be attributed to one or more of the following:

  • Changes in stress levels
  • Bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells
  • Skipping meals, resulting in hunger and dehydration
  • Not getting enough sleep, or getting too much sleep
  • Direct physical pressure to the head, like wearing a hat or a helmet
  • Rigorous physical activity
  • Certain foods (chocolate, alcohol, MSG, aged cheeses, processed meats, aspartame, high levels of caffeine)"

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Why Women Have More Migraines

take off discomfort glasses after long wear and massages nose bridge

"Approximately 3 out of 4 people who have migraines are women, Dr. Williams explains.  "More women suffer from migraines and headaches due to hormonal causes related to menstrual cycles, pregnancy, or birth control pills. Estrogen, a female hormone, also controls chemicals in the brain that affect sensations of pain. When this hormone level fluctuates, due to stress or hormonal cycles, it may trigger a painful headache or migraine."

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How to Help Prevent a Migraine

drinking water

Dr. Williams states, "So now that we know what they are and what causes them, how can headaches and migraines be prevented? If you're struggling with frequent chronic headaches and migraines, it is important to find a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating them. For some sufferers, there are medications that can be prescribed to help prevent the attacks before they start. If headaches are just popping up from time to time, some simple lifestyle changes can help:

  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, and do not skip meals
  • Aim to get about the same number of hours of sleep every night (between 7-9)
  • Don't go overboard on caffeine, or alcohol
  • Engage in moderate physical activity daily
  • Practice coping mechanisms when stress levels get high

The best way to prevent headaches and migraines is to learn the triggers for your attacks and to do your best to avoid them. Headaches and migraines can be debilitating at times, but knowing how to differentiate between the two and understanding the causes may make it easier to find relief." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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