Migraine headache: Symptoms, Home Remedies, and Treatment

By Dr. Atul Prasad in Centre For Neurosciences

Oct 17 , 2023 | 11 min read

Migraine headaches are more than just a throbbing ache in the head; they are a complex neurological condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Those who have experienced a migraine understand that it's far from a typical headache. Migraines come with their unique set of symptoms, triggers, and, fortunately, ways to manage them effectively.

In this comprehensive guide, one can delve deep into the world of migraines, exploring their various types, symptoms, triggers, risk factors, and a range of treatment options.

Whether someone is a migraine sufferer looking for answers or an individual wanting to understand this debilitating condition better, they are in the right place. The guide embarks on a journey to unravel the mysteries of migraines and discover how to live a life less affected by them.

What is a Migraine Headache?

Before delving into the specifics, it's essential to establish a solid foundation by understanding what a migraine headache is and why early detection is crucial.

Migraines differ significantly from common headaches. They represent a neurological disorder characterised by recurrent, severe headaches that frequently accompany a range of other symptoms. These symptoms can be so debilitating that they interfere with daily life, leaving those affected desperately for relief.

The Importance of Early Detection

Early detection is paramount when it comes to managing migraines effectively. Recognising the signs and symptoms can make a world of difference in the course of the condition. The sooner individuals can identify a migraine and take appropriate action, the better they can cope with it.

Migraine Headache Types

Migraines aren't one-size-fits-all. There's a wide spectrum of migraine types, each with its unique characteristics and symptoms. Let's explore these variations to gain a better understanding.
  1. Complicated Migraine (Migraine with Aura)

    A complicated migraine, often referred to as a migraine with aura, involves neurological symptoms known as an "aura" before or during the headache phase. Aura symptoms may include visual disturbances, sensory changes, and difficulty speaking. These symptoms usually precede or accompany the headache.

  2. Common Migraine (Migraine without Aura)

    Common migraines, or migraines without aura, are characterised by severe headache attacks without the neurological symptoms seen in complicated migraines. These migraines typically present with intense head pain, often on one side of the head.

  3. Migraine without Head Pain

    Contrary to what many might expect, not all migraines involve head pain. Some individuals experience migraine symptoms without the classic headache. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound without the typical head pain.

  4. Chronic Migraine

    Chronic migraines occur when a person experiences headaches for 15 or more days per month for at least three months, with at least eight of those being migraines. These frequent migraines can severely impact one's quality of life, often leading to disability.

  5. Hemiplegic migraine

    Hemiplegic migraines are a rare type characterised by temporary paralysis or weakness on one side of the body before or during the headache. Alongside the paralysis, individuals may experience other aura symptoms and severe head pain.

  6. Retinal migraine

    Retinal migraines are characterised by temporary vision loss or blindness in one eye. These episodes can be frightening but typically resolve within an hour. The sudden loss of vision in one eye is a hallmark of this type of migraine.

  7. Status migraine

    When a migraine attack lasts for an extended period, typically exceeding 72 hours, it's considered a status migraine. Sufferers of status migrainosus experience prolonged and severe head pain, often requiring medical intervention.

  8. Menstrual migraine

    Hormonal fluctuations, especially around menstruation, can trigger menstrual migraines in some women. Symptoms typically occur before, during, or after menstruation and often include severe head pain.

  9. Vestibular migraine

    Vestibular migraines are characterised by dizziness and problems with balance, often accompanied by a headache. Individuals may feel unsteady, experience vertigo, and have difficulty walking during an episode.

  10. Migraine with Brainstem Aura

    This rare type of migraine involves specific aura symptoms originating from the brainstem. These symptoms can include difficulty speaking, hearing loss, and problems with coordination.

  11. Ocular migraine

    Ocular migraines, also known as retinal migraines, involve temporary vision disturbances or blindness in one eye. These visual disturbances are often followed by a headache.

Migraine Headache Symptoms

Now that we've explored the various types of migraines, let's delve into the symptoms, which can vary from person to person and even from one migraine episode to another.

  • Prodrome: The prodrome phase, also known as the pre-headache phase, can include mood changes, irritability, food cravings, and increased thirst. While the exact causes of prodrome are not fully understood, they are believed to be related to changes in brain chemistry. Managing prodrome symptoms involves recognising your personal triggers and taking preventive measures accordingly.

  • Aura: Aura symptoms can include visual disturbances (like flashing lights or blind spots), sensory changes (tingling or numbness), and difficulty speaking. Aura is thought to result from changes in brain activity and blood flow. Reducing stress and avoiding known triggers can help prevent or minimise aura symptoms.

  • Headache: The hallmark of a migraine is a severe headache, often throbbing and localised to one side of the head. Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound frequently accompany the pain. The exact cause of migraine pain remains a topic of ongoing research, but it's believed to involve a complex interplay of genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors. Managing headache symptoms involves identifying triggers and using appropriate medications or lifestyle changes.

  • Post-Drome: After the headache phase subsides, many individuals experience a post-drome or "migraine hangover." This phase can include fatigue, mood changes, and difficulty concentrating. Post-drome symptoms are believed to be related to the lingering effects of the migraine attack on the brain. Adequate rest, hydration, and self-care can help alleviate post-drome symptoms.

Migraine Headache Triggers

Understanding your migraine triggers is essential for managing migraines effectively.

Let's take a closer look at some common culprits that can set off a migraine episode.

  • Missing A Meal: Skipping meals or going too long without eating can lead to low blood sugar levels, triggering migraines in susceptible individuals.

  • Hormonal Changes In Women: Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause can trigger migraines in some women.

  • Emotional Stress: Stress is a well-known migraine trigger. Emotional tension can lead to muscle tension, which, in turn, can trigger a migraine.

  • Caffeine: While caffeine can offer relief for some people during a migraine attack, excessive caffeine consumption or caffeine withdrawal can also trigger migraines.

  • Changing Weather Conditions: Weather-related factors like changes in barometric pressure, temperature, and humidity can trigger migraines in some individuals.

  • Overexertion: Intense physical exertion, especially if you're not accustomed to it, can trigger exercise-induced migraines.

  • Dieting Or Not Drinking Enough Water: Dehydration and drastic changes in diet, especially the consumption of trigger foods like aged cheeses and processed meats, can provoke migraines.

  • Exposure To Smoke: Secondhand smoke or exposure to strong odors and chemicals can trigger migraines in sensitive individuals.

  • Excessive Use Of Pain-Relieving Medications: Overusing medications, especially pain relievers like opioids or even common over-the-counter painkillers, can lead to medication-overuse headaches, which are a form of migraine.

Migraine Headache Risk Factors

Certain factors can increase your susceptibility to migraines. Understanding these risk factors can help you manage your condition more effectively.

  • Age: Migraines can affect individuals of all ages, but they often begin during adolescence and tend to decrease in frequency and intensity with age.

  • Sex: Migraines are more prevalent in women than in men, with hormonal factors playing a significant role in this gender disparity.

  • Other Medical Conditions: Conditions such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders can increase the risk of migraines.

  • Family History: If you have a family history of migraines, your risk of developing them is higher due to genetic factors.

Migraine Headache Treatment

Now that we've explored the types, symptoms, and triggers of migraines, let's delve into the various treatment options available to manage migraine headache conditions effectively.

Managing migraines often involves a combination of lifestyle modifications and medications. Here are some common approaches:

  • Abortive Medications: Abortive medications, also known as acute or symptomatic treatments, are designed to stop a migraine attack in its tracks. These medications are taken as soon as migraine symptoms start and are most effective when used early in the attack.

    Examples: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, aspirin, or prescription medications like Triptans.

  • Preventive Medications (Prophylactic): Preventive medications are taken regularly to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. They are typically prescribed when migraines occur frequently or are especially severe.

    Examples: Beta-blockers, antiepileptic drugs, antidepressants, and CGRP receptor antagonists.

  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs): NSAIDs are over-the-counter pain relievers that can be used for mild to moderate migraines. They are most effective when taken at the onset of migraine symptoms.

    Examples: Ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and aspirin.

  • Triptans: Triptans are a class of medications specifically designed to relieve migraine symptoms. They are taken during a migraine attack to alleviate pain and associated symptoms.

    Examples: Sumatriptan, rizatriptan, and eletriptan.

  • CGRP Receptor Antagonists: CGRP receptor antagonists are a newer class of preventive medications designed to target the underlying causes of migraines. They are taken regularly to reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

    Examples: Erenumab, fremanezumab, and galcanezumab.

  • Ergotamine: Ergotamine is an older medication used for the acute treatment of migraines. It is used when other treatments are ineffective or contraindicated. Ergotamine has potential side effects and should be used under medical supervision.

  • Dexamethasone: Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid medication that may be used in combination with other treatments to relieve severe migraines. It is typically administered as a short-term treatment for particularly stubborn migraine attacks. Dexamethasone should be used under medical supervision due to potential side effects.

  • Single-Pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (STMS): sTMS is a non-drug approach to migraine relief that involves the use of magnetic pulses to stimulate specific areas of the brain. It is used as an acute treatment during a migraine attack. sTMS offers a drug-free alternative for migraine management.

Home Remedies for Migraine Headaches

While medications play a crucial role in managing migraines, there are also several home remedies and lifestyle modifications that can complement medical treatment and help prevent or alleviate migraine symptoms.

  • Yoga: Yoga involves relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and gentle stretching, which can reduce stress and tension, common migraine triggers.

  • Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines by promoting overall health and reducing stress.

  • Detoxification: Some individuals find that detoxifying their bodies through practices like fasting or cleansing diets can help reduce the frequency of migraines.

  • Resting In A Quiet And Cool Room: Creating a calm and dark environment can help relieve migraine symptoms, as many individuals are sensitive to light and sound during an attack.

  • Meditation: Mindfulness meditation can be an effective tool for managing stress and reducing the intensity and frequency of migraines.

  • Massaging Your Scalp: Scalp massages can promote relaxation and relieve muscle tension, potentially reducing the severity of migraines.


Migraines can be incredibly challenging to deal with, but with the right knowledge and treatment options, you can regain control of your life. Remember that early detection, understanding your triggers, and exploring treatment methods are all crucial steps in managing migraines effectively.

Whether you're seeking relief for yourself or supporting a loved one with migraines, the key is patience and perseverance. By working closely with healthcare professionals and implementing effective strategies, you can minimise the impact of migraines and lead a more fulfilling life.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the main causes of migraine headaches?

Migraine headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors, including genetic predisposition, hormonal changes, stress, certain foods and beverages, environmental factors, and even weather changes.

2. What is the difference between a migraine headache and a normal headache?

The primary difference lies in the intensity and accompanying symptoms. Migraine headaches are typically more severe than regular tension headaches and often come with additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and, in some cases, aura symptoms like visual disturbances.

3. How do I relieve a migraine?

Relief strategies vary depending on the severity of the migraine. Over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medications, rest in a dark and quiet room, and applying cold or hot packs to the head or neck can provide relief. Identifying and avoiding triggers is also crucial.

4. How long can a migraine last?

Migraines can vary in duration. They can last anywhere from a few hours to several days, with the duration often influenced by the type of migraine and the effectiveness of treatment.

5. Is it safe to sleep with a migraine?

Sleep can be an effective way to manage a migraine, especially if you're fatigued. However, it's essential to create a comfortable, dark, and quiet sleeping environment to facilitate rest and recovery.

6. What sleeping position is best for a migraine?

The best sleeping position for migraine relief can vary from person to person. Some find relief by sleeping on their back with a supportive pillow, while others prefer a side-sleeping position. Experiment with different positions to see what works best for you.

7. How is a migraine different from a headache?

Migraines differ from ordinary headaches in their intensity, duration, and accompanying symptoms. Migraines are typically more severe, last longer, and often come with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

8. How much sleep is necessary for a migraine?

Adequate sleep is crucial for migraine management, as both too much and too little sleep can trigger migraines in some individuals. Aim for a consistent sleep schedule and ensure you get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

9. Can oversleeping cause migraines?

Yes, oversleeping or irregular sleep patterns can trigger migraines in some individuals. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is essential for migraine prevention.

10. What is a migraine diet?

A migraine diet involves identifying and avoiding specific trigger foods and beverages that can provoke migraine attacks. Common trigger foods include aged cheeses, processed meats, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial additives. Keeping a migraine diary can help pinpoint dietary triggers.