Is My Severe Headache a Migraine?

Q: Sometimes I get severe headaches that cause me to get dizzy and nauseous. Is it a migraine?

A: Migraines are painful headaches often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. The National Headache Foundation estimates that 28 million Americans suffer from migraines. More women than men get migraines and a quarter of all women with migraines suffer four or more attacks a month. Each migraine can last from four hours to three days.

The cause is unknown but they are related to changes in the brain as well as can be genetic, and be affected by certain triggers like fatigue, bright lights, weather changes and others.

Many migraines seem to be triggered by external factors such:

  • Emotional stress: During stressful events, certain chemicals in the brain are released to combat the situation. These chemicals can provoke vascular changes that can cause a migraine.
  • Sensitivity to specific chemicals and preservatives in foods: Certain foods and beverages, such as aged cheese, alcoholic beverages, and food additives may be responsible for triggering up to 30 percent of migraines.
  • Caffeine: Excessive caffeine consumption or withdrawal can cause headaches when the caffeine level abruptly drops. The blood vessels seem to become sensitized to caffeine, and when caffeine is not ingested, a headache may occur. Caffeine itself is often helpful in treating acute migraine attacks.
  • Changing weather conditions: Storm fronts, changes in barometric pressure, strong winds, or changes in altitude can all trigger a migraine.
  • Menstrual periods
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Skipping meals
  • Changes in normal sleep pattern

There is no cure for migraines. However, many drugs treat or even prevent some migraines. Some people identify and avoid triggers that lead to a migraine. See a family doctor to determine a method of treatment.

Zachary Baeseman, MDBy Zachary Baeseman, MD, of ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca.