Migraine headaches are very common and affect about 18% of women and 9% of men at some point in their lives. However, this common illness is often misdiagnosed as “tension headache”, “sinus headache”, or allergy. Here are some of the characteristics of migraines that help differentiate them from other headache syndromes:
Unilateral headache. A headache that is primarily on one side only, or “unilateral”, is very typical of migraine, but not typical of other headache types.
Throbbing. Headaches that throb, or pulse with the heartbeat are more often migraine.
Photophobia. Light sensitivity is very common in migraine, but very uncommon in other headaches. Patients often report that light, especially outdoor light, is very bothersome during a headache. FL-41 tint was specifically engineered for migraine patients with light sensitivity.
Phonophobia. Sound sensitivity is also common during a migraine. Even the regular sound of the TV can be irritating during a headache.
Nausea and Vomiting. Nausea, even if mild, is more likely to be associated with a migraine than with other headache types.
Car Sickness. Adults with migraine often have a history of being carsick or motion sick as children.
Note that headache severity is not one of the criteria! Although migraines can be severe, they run on a spectrum – Some people have mild migraines – they might not even take an aspirin for it. Others have severe headaches that land them in the local emergency room. Most migraines are somewhere in-between.
If you think you have migraines, you should discuss it with your primary care physician. He/she can help make the correct diagnosis and guide you toward appropriate medical and non-medical therapy.
*Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society. Classification and diagnostic criteria for headache disorders, cranial neuralgia and facial pain. Cephalgia 1988; 8(Suppl. 7): 1-96.
*Headache in Clinical Practice. S D Silberstein, R B Lipton, P J Goadsby (eds). Mosby-Year Book Inc., St Louis, MO. 1998.
*Cuomo-Granston A, Drummond PD. Migraine and motion sickness: Prog Neurobiol 2010. 91:300-12.