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Dr. Mark Hosko, MD, May 19 2022

What Causes Migraine Headaches?

Migraine Causes & Remedies

Migraines are intense headaches that differ from headaches but can be difficult to self-diagnose and treat. However, understanding your options can help to alleviate the symptoms and combat migraines. Find out what options you have available and information to help you understand if your headaches are more and may require special treatment. 

What causes migraine headaches?

A multitude of problems can trigger a migraine headache, and finding the cause can be a time-consuming problem. However, there are some common stressors that may cause migraines, and often the causes are genetics or environmental factors. Specifically, changes in the brainstem and interactions with major nerves or pathways may cause chemical imbalances in the brain and cause pain in the form of migraines. 

Serotonin levels may play a part in migraines as lower levels can cause swelling and pain. Another suspected cause is electrical activity patterns in the brain. Any number of factors from genetic, environmental, and lifestyle may work in conjunction to cause a migraine headache. 

Certain things can trigger a migraine, but the triggers are different for everyone. For some, the triggers are food or drink-related. Other triggers include stress, sensory stimuli, sleep changes, physical exertion, weather changes, and medications.

Furthermore, women are more likely to experience migraines, especially in their thirties. Often women experience migraines because of hormonal changes due to puberty, mensuration, pregnancy, and menopause. 

What are the symptoms of a migraine?

Migraine symptoms include an intense throbbing or dull aching pain on one or both sides of your head. You may also experience worsening pain with movement, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, feeling cold or sweaty, congested nose, lightheadedness, and a tender scalp. Furthermore, you may also experience worsening pain from light, noise, or smells that can lead to blurred vision or blind spots. 

Next, migraines come in a variety of types, some with pain and others without. You can even experience a silent migraine with an aura but no discomfort. Check with your doctor as symptoms that do not seem like migraine symptoms may be an indicator for you but not for someone else. 

What is the difference between a migraine and a headache?

Headaches come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including tension, sinus, and cluster as the main forms. However, headaches are not nearly as intense as migraines. Migraines cause intense throbbing pain that interrupts all the senses. Headaches usually include varying frequencies and intensities and may extend to the neck and face. 

How do I know if my headache is a migraine?

The only real way to tell if a headache is a migraine is by finding the cause and understanding the headache. Doctors are able to tell the difference, but they are hard for others to find the fine line between the two. If you find a headache overwhelms all of your senses, then it’s probably a migraine and not a headache. If you do not have a clear reason for a headache like allergies, sinus issues, or some knowable issue, then it could be a migraine.

Visiting your doctor is the best bet for recurring headaches you suspect could be a migraine. Migraines are far more debilitating than a headache, though, and come with an aura. Headaches do not include an aura, although not all migraines come with aura’s either. Finally, headaches only last a few hours, where migraines can last for days. 

How is a migraine diagnosed?

Doctors may run several tests to help diagnose a migraine or to rule out other problems. The tests may include an MRI or CT scan for a better look at the brain. After figuring out if you are suffering from migraines, doctors will help you with pain-relieving and preventative medications. Treatment will vary depending on your symptoms and how your migraine manifests. 

Your doctor can use a variety of medicines to combat multiple symptoms such as pain and nausea. Also, they can try a few other remedies to reduce the chance of a migraine or severity. However, as of now, there are no definitive tests to diagnose migraines yet, but they can help by performing an exam and gathering medical history. More importantly, they can rule out other problems. 

What are the four stages of a migraine?

The first stage of a migraine is Prodrome. It’s a precursor to a migraine and includes symptoms like constipation, mood changes, frequent thirst or urination, yawning, cravings, and neck stiffness. Stage two is the aura, some form of visual phenomena like shapes, spots, or flashes of lights. These symptoms, along with jerky movements, difficulty, speaking, and weakness, builds gradually and last from a few minutes to a few hours. 

Stage three starts the migraine attack that can last from four to 72 hours unless treated. The symptoms of this stage include throbbing or pulsing pain, sensitivities to other senses, and nausea or vomiting. Lastly, stage four is post-drome, where the head diffuses and leaves a person feeling confused and washed out for several days.  

How do you stop a migraine headache?

As of right now, there are no methods to stop migraine headaches, only to treat the symptoms. Finding out what causes your migraines and avoiding the triggers is the only way to stop a migraine headache. 

What foods are good for migraines?

Many foods can trigger a migraine, and they could be different for everyone. Some common food triggers include aged, cured, or processed meats or cheeses, aspartame, excessive caffeine, sauerkraut, and many more. Knowing what foods can trigger a migraine will help you to avoid them so you can opt for foods more likely to help a migraine. 

Several foods may help migraines by prevention, including foods rich in minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids. Look for foods high in magnesium, such as dark leafy greens, tuna, and even avocados. Next, try foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, seeds, and legumes. Also, try low carbohydrate foods high in healthy fats. 

You may need to try an elimination diet to find out what foods offer help and others harm. Do so with the help of a nutritionist or dietitian if possible to avoid malnutrition. Keep a journal of what you eat before a migraine to help you better understand your body. 

What drinks help migraines?

As with foods, certain drinks may trigger a migraine, and knowing the triggers can help you avoid them to prevent the onset. Many people experience problems with caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Instead, you may need to find the right caffeine like green tea. Look also for decaffeinated coffee and a variety of teas. Many have found feverfew, ginger, or peppermint tea help reduce symptoms. Fruit juices like grape, grapefruit, orange, or fruit-infused waters can help, as can water. Others have found that reducing fat milk helps as it’s high in riboflavin (vitamin B2). Look for drinks high in minerals and nutrients to help if possible.

What can I take for a migraine?

Many people find some relief from symptoms with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. A few brands make a migraine mix with acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. However, avoid these if caffeine is one of your triggers. Do not take medication for more than four days without a visit to your doctor, and never take more than the recommended dosages. 

You can also try a variety of natural and homeopathic remedies to help with migraine discomfort. Some people have found relief from acupressure or acupuncture, dietary changes, essential oils, ginger, stress management, yoga, massage, and herbal remedies. Experimenting with a variety of options is the only way to know if any of these options will work for you. 

How can I prevent migraine headaches?

Look for a few precursors that can indicate an oncoming migraine. Look for constipation, mood changes including depression and euphoria, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased urination, fluid retention, and chronic yawning. Another symptom of an oncoming migraine is an aura or visual phenomena where you may see strange shapes, spots, flashes, or light. 

Alternately, you may lose vision for a short amount of time or experience weakness on one side of your face or body. Others have experienced pins and needles in their arms and legs or difficulty speaking. When you figure out your triggers, you can then start to figure out the next piece of the puzzle, what works for your body to stop or reduce the migraine. 

Should I see a doctor for a migraine?

Yes, you should see a doctor for a migraine as they can offer some relief and help to find triggers. Moreover, they can help to treat intense headaches over time to reduce frequency. If your migraines interrupt your life, doctors will be able to help as well and keep you living instead of just surviving. Also, it’s important to see a doctor so they can make sure the migraines are not linked to underlying problems or conditions. 

Why choose Portland Urgent Care for migraine treatment?

Portland Urgent Care works with a multitude of insurance companies to serve more customers. We also use a variety of integrated medical resources by combining both western and eastern medical healthcare allowing us to serve you the way your body needs. We offer same-day and walk-in appointments for migraines for immediate care with the best doctors. Get a dedicated treatment plan to prevent future migraines and cope with the symptoms.


Migraines are treatable but not fixable and require a doctor's help. While a doctor cannot cure you of migraines, they can diagnose them and help to find your triggers to prevent future migraines. At Portland Urgent Care, we can help you deal with your pain and move forward to avoid pain and discomfort and get back to your life.

Looking To Solve or Relieve Pain? Visit Portland Urgent Care for the Following Services:

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Written by

Dr. Mark Hosko, MD

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