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Is That Headache a Migraine?

By some estimates, about 12% of Americans experience migraines. Could you be one of them?

Woman with a migraine, lg

Migraines aren't the same for all people. But that pounding in your head could be a migraine if the pain begins in your forehead, on the side of your head, or around your eyes and then gradually gets worse.

Almost any movement, activity, bright lights, or loud noise might make your head hurt even more. More tipoffs: You might feel nauseated or throw up. And, as happens for about 1 out of 5 people with migraines, yours might begin with a warning sign called an aura, which may include vision changes—such as flashing lights or zig-zag lines—or tingling in the lips, tongue, lower face, or the fingers of one hand.

Related: How to Feel Better When Stress or Anxiety Hits

Cause still a mystery

Doctors still don't know just what happens in the brain to start a migraine. But it’s clear that people who experience them are susceptible to certain triggers. Among them:

• Loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells

• Skipped meals, alcohol, or certain foods—such as aged cheeses and cured meats

• Not enough sleep

• Stress

• Hormonal changes related to menstrual periods and birth control pills

Related: What's My Impossible? Dealing with a Chronic Condition

Tame your headaches While there's no cure for migraines, your doctor can tell you about medicines that may stop them from becoming severe. These medicines work best when taken as soon as your headache starts. It may also help to lie down in a dark, quiet room and put a cold cloth over your forehead.

Your doctor may also advise daily medicines—there's a variety of them—to prevent migraines if they happen frequently or are severe.

These steps may also help head off migraines:

• Eat regularly—don't miss meals.

• Stick to a regular sleep schedule.

• Slim down if you're overweight. Carrying extra pounds may contribute to migraines.

• Keep a headache diary for a month. Try to figure out your triggers, then do your best to avoid them.

And while you’re here, check out our other articles on healthy living.

For more information on our medical and dental plans, visit selecthealth.org/plans.

References: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Migraine Foundation; National Institutes of Health; UpToDate

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