Migraine headaches

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When a migraine comes on, just getting out of bed can be difficult. Reading this blog would be a struggle. 

What is a migraine headache, what causes one and what can migraine sufferers do to get relief? Our staff at SIU Medicine can help you learn more about this condition and provide you with effective and innovative migraine treatments. 

Migraine headaches are more common than you think 

A migraine is an intense headache that typically emanates from one side of the brain, usually presenting with additional symptoms. It is considered a neurological disorder. This means it affects the brain and nervous system. 

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, approximately 39 million people in America (and 1 billion people worldwide) get migraine headaches. Women are more likely to experience migraine headaches, but men and children can get them, as well. 

What causes a migraine? 

Researchers at SIU Medicine and elsewhere are still learning about migraine headaches,  including what causes them. They appear to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and may relate to chemical imbalances within the brain and nervous system.

Migraine episodes or "attacks" often develop after a person is exposed to certain triggers. These triggers can vary for each individual, but may include: 

  • Hormonal changes, particularly for women
  • Stress
  • Certain drinks (e.g., alcohol or coffee), foods (especially processed/salty foods), or food additives
  • Physical exertion, including sexual activity
  • Exposure to bright lights or strong smells
  • Changes in sleep
  • Weather changes
  • Certain medications


Signs and symptoms of migraines

Migraine signs and symptoms can be so intense that a person is unable to move about during an attack. Chief signs and symptoms include:

  • Intense throbbing or pulsing pain on one and sometimes both sides of the head
  • Increased sensitivity to touch, sound and smell
  • Nausea and vomiting


An active migraine headache may last for a few hours or up to a few days. For some people, attacks come on rarely; for others, migraines occur several times a month. 

Many people who get migraines notice warning signs in the days or hours leading up to an attack. Known as prodrome symptoms, they include mood changes, frequent yawning, neck stiffness, constipation, increased urination and food cravings.

Right before or during a migraine, a person might experience additional neurological symptoms known as "aura." Aura may include difficulty speaking, weakness or numbness on one side of the body, pins and needles sensations, vision loss and visual disturbances like the appearance of bright flashes of light. While temporary, these signs and symptoms can be quite distressful and debilitating. 

If you or someone you love ever experience these symptoms for the first time, call 911 right away. Better to be safe than sorry.

Finding relief: what you can do about migraines

The best way to find relief from migraine headaches is to work closely with a trusted health care provider. 

At present there is no specific test to diagnose a migraine. At SIU Medicine, our providers rely on thorough family and medical history, physical exam, blood tests, and even imaging studies like MRIs to rule out other conditions and help confirm a diagnosis of migraine.

Migraine treatment involves a range of pain-relieving medications (both prescription and over-the-counter). Some research supports additional remedies like BOTOX, acupuncture, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy and herbal supplements for reducing the intensity, duration and/or frequency of migraines. 

Once determined that a patient's migraines are adequately relieved with the use of BOTOX, migraine surgery can be performed to bring long-term relief from migraines. Migraine surgery targets the nerves that cause pain and can lead to significant relief or complete resolution of pain. The surgical treatment of migraine and headache pain has successfully been performed for more than 20 years. It releases the tight tissue around the nerves, very similar to how carpal tunnel surgery is performed.

Do you need migraine relief? 

Call 217-545-8000 to schedule an appointment with a neurologist or other experienced health care provider at SIU Medicine. We'll work with you to determine the best course of action for your unique needs.

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