March 8, 2019

Is a migraine just a really bad headache?

Migraines affect an estimated 28 million Americans, with 35% experiencing one to four migraine attacks per month, according to the National Headache Foundation. Because migraines are so common, many people have come to believe that they are just bad headaches — just a normal part of life.

Migraines are considered intense headaches that can put a stop to your daily routine. However, they are not just really bad headaches, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. UAMS neurologist Dr. John Greenfield says frequent migraines can be a sign of a much bigger problem.

“Migraines are a neurological disorder and are thought to occur due to increased excitability in some areas of the brain.”

A migraine is a headache, but it is not just any kind of headache. Dr. Greenfield says it is a “sick headache,” that can cause nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises.

“With the onset of a migraine, excitable neurons trigger a cascading event called ‘spreading depression’ that migrates across the surface of the brain,” says Dr. Greenfield. “This is sometimes associated with an ‘aura,’ which is a visual disturbance that may look like a blind spot or jagged lines in the peripheral vision.”

There is no real cure for migraines, but they can be managed with medicine, says Dr. Greenfield. There are many different medications, and your physician may have to try several before finding the right one.

“If you have new or changing headaches, worsening headaches or headaches that are associated with other symptoms (weakness, numbness, dizziness), you need to be evaluated by a physician or headache specialist. This will ensure they are not being caused by a more serious problem such as a brain tumor, vascular malformation or vasculitis.”