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Migraine

Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute

UT Southwestern Medical Center brings together the latest research and therapies to offer patients compassionate, comprehensive care for migraines.

At UT Southwestern, we recognize that migraine care is not one size fits all. We tailor each patient’s treatment to meet his or her unique needs.

Compassionate Care for Migraine Relief

Migraines are the most common type of disabling headache and a leading cause of missed workdays and lost productivity. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population is affected (18 percent of women, 6 percent of men and children). After puberty, the headaches are three times more common in women than men. 

Migraine headaches in adults usually last for hours, but sometimes they last for days. The visual or neurological symptoms can last between seconds and hours but usually last less than 45 minutes. These symptoms can become permanent. Migraines in young children are briefer, usually lasting less than two hours. 

Activity usually makes migraine symptoms worse, so most people prefer to lie down in a dark, quiet room and can often get relief with sleep. 

Headache specialists at UT Southwestern combine the latest research and therapies to offer people with migraines relief from their symptoms and reduce migraine frequency.

Symptoms

Migraines can produce many kinds of visual or neurological symptoms, which are caused by transient inflammation of vessels, dilation of blood vessels, and abnormal firing of nerve cells in the brain. These symptoms sometimes develop in progression – for example, a person might develop numbness on the face that resolves, then weakness of the arm that resolves, then flashing lights. Some people know “it will be a migraine day” because of tiredness, excessive energy, mood changes, yawning, or food cravings that precede the actual migraine symptoms. 

Symptoms of a migraine vary from person to person. They include any of the following, as well as other, less common symptoms:

  • Pain: Headaches are the best-known feature of migraine, although it is possible to have a migraine without having headaches. The headaches usually start as a mild ache, often on one side of the head. The pain gradually increases in intensity and becomes throbbing or pounding in nature.
  • Neurological effects: These include weakness, numbness, dizziness, speech difficulty, confusion, or loss of consciousness.
  • Visual disturbances: The most common visual symptoms are flashing lights, zig-zag lines, “heat waves,” stars, blurring, or other disturbances of vision. Some people experience loss of vision in one eye, tunnel vision, double vision, or complete loss of vision. The visual symptoms often begin gradually and fade away. 

In addition to these classic symptoms, many people also experience:

  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Sensitivity to odors
  • Vomiting

There is also an association between migraine and some medical conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Motion sickness
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon 

Diagnosis

Migraine headaches often run in families, and knowing about other family members’ headaches is often helpful for the diagnosis and treatment of the condition. If a patient’s symptoms are typical for migraine and the neurological exam is normal, usually no additional tests are needed to make a diagnosis, particularly if there is a family history of migraine.

If a patient’s symptoms are not typical, or the headaches develop later in life, a brain scan and other tests might be recommended to rule out other conditions, such as vascular disease or blood clots from the neck or heart. 

The key to successful management of migraine is communication between patient and physician. UT Southwestern specialists work with each patient to come up with a solution that works for the individual.

More About Migraines

Download a Patient Information Sheet (PDF) about migraines.

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