March 3, 2023
How Long Do Migraines Last?
A normal headache often lasts only a few minutes or hours, or until you address its root cause by eating, drinking water, or sleeping. Conversely, migraines can last for much longer and produce symptoms that are often severe and debilitating.
Here’s more about how to know when you’re having a migraine and not a normal headache, how long migraines last, and how to contact Healthcare Associates of Texas if you need professional diagnosis and treatment for migraines.
What Is a Migraine?
A migraine is a severe headache that can cause intense, throbbing pain anywhere in the head. Nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound are common symptoms of migraines. Migraine symptoms can often be severe enough to interfere with normal daily activities.
What Causes Migraines?
The exact cause of migraines is not known or understood. But research has shown that they may be caused by genetics or chemical imbalances in the brain that trigger inflammation.
Certain factors may increase your risk for migraines. These factors are also known as events, or triggers. Migraine risk factors include:
- Hormonal changes. Menopause, pregnancy, menstrual periods, and the use of hormonal birth control are examples of hormonal changes that may cause migraines.
- Too much or too little sleep
- Bright lights
- Loud noises
- Strong odors
- Anxiety and stress
- Alcohol, particularly red wine
- Too much caffeine, or withdrawal from caffeine
- Foods high in nitrates. Examples include hot dogs, bacon, and processed lunch meats.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG). This preservative is an ingredient in many processed foods, including salad dressings and fast foods.
- Foods that contain tyramine (a byproduct of an amino acid called tyrosine). Soy products, sausages, and fava beans are examples of foods that contain tyramine.
- Aspartame (artificial sweetener)
- Intense physical activity
- Weather changes and changes in barometric pressure
- Certain medications. Opioids, acetaminophen, and ergotamine are some of the many drugs that can trigger migraines.
What Does a Migraine Feel Like?
Migraines produce different symptoms, and not everyone will experience a migraine similarly.
Generally, a migraine causes head pain that is moderate to severe and lasts for at least several hours. It may also get worse when you move around. The pain you feel may be on one or both sides of your head, or in a specific area, such as the front of your head, behind the eyes, the back of your head, or your cheeks.
Other symptoms you may have before, during, or after a migraine include:
- Throbbing or pulsing in the head
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light, sound, smell, and/or touch
- Food cravings
- Frequent urination
- Frequent yawning
- Mood changes
- Neck stiffness
- Vision loss
- Seeing bright lights
- Pins and needles sensation in the arms and legs
- Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking
How Long Does a Migraine Last?
There are many different types of migraines. The length of your migraine lasts usually depends on which type you experience.
Migraine without aura is the most common type, making up 75% of all cases. This type of migraine can last anywhere from four to 72 hours. Its symptoms range from moderate to severe, and worsen with physical activity, such as vigorous exercise. It may also trigger nausea and make you extremely sensitive to light and sound.
Migraine with aura usually only lasts for several minutes. These migraines are known to affect your speech, language, and motor skills.
Chronic migraine is classified as a headache that occurs at least 15 days a month for at least three months. Some of these headaches will have migraine features, or symptoms, that occur for at least eight days a month.
Your doctor can identify your type of migraine based on your symptoms. Your doctor can also help you understand what to expect regarding how long your migraines may last.
Treatments for Migraines
Migraine treatment aims to reduce or stop your symptoms and help you avoid future migraines.
Medications are the most common treatment for migraines. They may be prescribed to treat your symptoms or to prevent migraines.
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers before prescribing medications. Ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen are OTC pain relievers that effectively relieve many migraine symptoms. But these medicines can produce side effects like stomach ulcers when used for a long time.
Triptans and ergot derivatives may treat migraines that cannot be treated with OTC pain relievers. These medications interact with certain brain chemicals to reduce your migraine symptoms.
Some medications — such as antidepressants and beta-blockers — may effectively prevent some types of migraines. Your doctor can talk to you about your treatment options based on your symptoms and the frequency of your migraines. Anti-seizure drugs, calcium channel blockers, and Botox injections are other medications your doctor may prescribe.
Specific lifestyle changes can also help you avoid migraines—especially if you know your triggers. For example, you can change your diet if you experience migraines only after eating processed foods. Healthy, one-ingredient foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish do not contain preservatives like MSG that are known to cause migraines.
Other lifestyle changes you can make to treat migraines include:
- Finding new ways to manage and reduce stress
- Going to sleep and waking at the exact times every day
- Eating meals at the same times every day
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume
- Drinking lots of water
- Keeping a migraine journal, which can help you identify other triggers
How to Prevent Migraines
Migraines cannot always be prevented, especially as their exact cause remains unknown. The most effective way to prevent migraines is to find out what triggers them and take steps to avoid those triggers.
Ask your doctor for help with preventing and managing your migraines. If your doctor prescribes medications for migraine prevention, you may need to try several before you find one that works for you.
When to See Your Doctor
Make an appointment with a doctor at Healthcare Associates of Texas if you experience symptoms of migraines regularly. We have specialists who can determine whether you are having headaches or migraines. It also helps to bring a journal to your appointment so you and your doctor can look for triggers.
Go to the emergency room immediately if you have migraine-like symptoms. These symptoms could indicate a more severe condition or problem:
- Headache accompanied by stroke symptoms (such as fever, confusion, seizures, and/or blurred vision)
- Headache that occurs after a head injury
- Headaches that cause pain around the eye or ear
- Ongoing headache that gets worse after coughing, straining, or performing sudden movements
- Severe headache that comes on suddenly and feels like a clap of thunder
- New headaches that begin after the age of 50
- Headaches that are interfering with your quality of life and daily activities
Request an appointment with Healthcare Associates of Texas today if you are experiencing migraines or severe headaches. We can perform an evaluation and discuss all your available treatment options.
- “Migraine.” Office on Women’s Health, February 22, 2021. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/migraine.
- Fischer, Michelle A. and Arif Jan. “Medication-overuse Headache.” StatPearls [Internet], July 4, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538150/
- Pescador Ruschel, Marco A. and Orlando De Jesus. “Migraine Headache.” StatPearls [Internet], November 27, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560787/
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