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Understanding Migraines

A migraine is a throbbing type of headache distinguished by the fact that symptoms other than pain occur with the headache. Nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and other visual disturbances are common migraine symptoms. 

Between 3 million and 7 million Americans suffer chronic migraines – defined as having the debilitating headaches 15 or more days a month. The headaches may be accompanied by throbbing pain, changes in speech and muscle weakness. As a result, fatigue, anxiety and irritability are common. When one family member has chronic migraines, there is a ripple effect, and the family as a whole can suffer as a result.

Migraine headaches are diagnosed primarily from reported symptoms, but a thorough medical exam, which may include other tests or procedures, may be used to rule out underlying diseases or conditions.

Tracking and sharing information about your headache with your care provider helps an accurate diagnosis. Consider writing down the following information to take to your medical appointment: time of day when your headaches occur, specific location of your headaches, how long your headaches last, information about stress in your life, and information about any head trauma.

Diagnostic tests that may be used to confirm a migraine diagnosis include computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) and spinal tap (lumbar puncture). These tests help rule out other problems, such as tumors, infection or blood vessel irregularities that may cause migraine-like symptoms.

Specific treatment for migraine headaches is determined by your doctor based on your age, overall health and medical history, along with type, severity and frequency of the migraine. The ultimate goal of treatment is to stop migraines from occurring. Management may include: changing eating habits; exercise; resting in a quiet, dark environment; medications, as recommended by your doctor; and stress management.

If you have intense and/ or recurring headaches, talk to your primary care provider to understand if you are experiencing migraines. They can offer management techniques or may refer you to a neurologist for further assessment.

Dr. Erin Jones is a board-certified Primary Care Provider with Barton Family Medicine in South Lake Tahoe. For more information or to establish a primary care provider, visit BartonHealth.org/PrimaryCare.