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What is Migraine Disorder?
Migraines are usually thought of as severe chronic headaches, but for most sufferers, the experience of a migraine is more complicated than that. While head pain is a common symptom of one stage of a migraine episode, there are often other symptoms, such as visual and sensory disturbances, and side effects such as nausea and vomiting.
Migraines may last as little as a few hours, or they can hang on for days. Some sufferers experience attacks relatively infrequently, perhaps twice a month, but some sufferers have attacks daily or near-daily.
The experience of a migraine attack varies widely from sufferer to sufferer, but a common pattern has the attack divided into four distinct phases: the prodrome phase, the aura phase, the attack phase, and the post-drome phase. Not all sufferers experience all four phases, and the symptoms of each phase are different for everyone.
The prodrome phase often occurs a day or two before the other phases, and it’s characterized by subtle symptoms that indicate an attack is coming on. These symptoms may include:
- Changes in mood, either positive or negative
- Increased thirst or urination, fluid retention, or constipation
- Unusual food cravings
- Stiffness in the neck
- Bouts of yawning
The aura phase typically precedes the attack phase, but the symptoms of the aura phase sometimes continue after the attack begins. The symptoms may include:
- Visual disturbances such as colors, shapes or flashes in your field of vision
- Impaired vision or vision loss
- Weakness, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs or on one side of the body
- Problems speaking
- Auditory disturbances or hallucinations
- Uncontrollable twitching or jerky movements
The attack phase is when the headache sets in. If left untreated, the pain may last anywhere from 4 hours to 72 hours. The pain is commonly felt on one side of the head, but it may encompass the whole head. The pain often throbs or pulses, as well.
Side effects during this phase often include nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
The post-drome phase begins when the headache ends and typically lasts for about a day. Sufferers usually feel lingering effects, including exhaustion, mood changes, or disorientation.
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