What Is A Migraine?

A migraine is more than a headache. It’s a neurological condition that can cause debilitating symptoms such as intense headaches, nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness or tingling, and sensitivity to light, smell, and sound.

While most migraines last around 4 hours, if one does not respond to treatment, it can last for 72 hours to a week. Even after the migraine goes away, the sufferer may still experience side effects from the attack including changes in mood, exhaustion, and a mild headache.

There isn’t a definitive cause for migraines, but there are links of the neurological condition to family history and the following triggers:

  • Dehydration and skipping meals
  • Hormonal changes in women and certain medications including oral contraceptives
  • Excess stress
  • Changes in sleep
  • Certain foods (too much caffeine/caffeine withdrawal, alcohol, chocolate, MSG, salty food, frozen foods or drinks, tyramine, cured meats, and artificial sweeteners)
  • Smoking

For those who suffer from migraines with aura, which includes visual, sensory, and speech problems, migraines without aura, or chronic migraines that occur more than 15 days a month for 3 or more months, every aspect of their lives can be impacted. They may not be able to enjoy the foods they once did, they may be bed-ridden for days at a time while they are fighting off a migraine – affecting their work and personal relationships, and their mood be may negatively changed as they feel hopeless and living in fear of when the next migraine will occur. But there is hope.

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Common Migraine Treatments

If you believe you have been suffering from migraines, but have not been diagnosed by a doctor, it’s important to schedule an appointment. A doctor will be able to diagnose migraines and schedule testing to be sure that the cause isn’t from a tumor, stroke, or other serious health problem.

Once the doctor confirms that it is not an abnormality of the brain causing the migraines, they may work on a treatment plan. While migraines may not be able to be cured, treatments can help manage them, reduce the frequency and severity, and lessen symptoms. Every migraine is different and requires a unique treatment plan. The type of migraines one experiences, the frequency, severity, symptoms, as well as the sufferer’s age and other health conditions, will all factor into the type of migraine treatment chosen.

Lifestyle Changes and Remedies

Before resorting to medications to manage migraines, a doctor may recommend at-home remedies or lifestyle changes. These can include avoiding foods and drinks known to induce migraines, staying hydrated, learning relaxation techniques, and getting quality sleep. If a migraine is coming on, lie down in a quiet, dark room, place a cold towel on your face, and try massaging your scalp.


If the migraines are severely impacting your life, OTC or prescription medications may become necessary either to prevent the onset of a migraine or treat it once it arises. OTC medications include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen but if they are not effective, ergotamines may be prescribed to contract blood vessels around the brain and relieve migraines. There are also antinausea drugs to help eliminate nausea and vomiting, but it’s important to talk to a doctor about what is best for your body. Medications can have side effects that may be even worse than the symptoms of a migraine.

Hormone Therapy

Hormonal migraines are caused by fluctuations with estrogen in the body during pregnancy, ovulation, menstruation, and perimenopause. If the migraine is menstrual related, the woman may be able to find relief through medication that affects serotonin levels as well as hormonal treatments.

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Alternative Treatment for Migraines

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

If traditional treatments are not working to cure your frequent migraines, Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, may be a solution for you. TMS is a noninvasive, non-drug therapy technique that applies magnetic energy to the brain to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. This treatment method works by calming overactive brain activity, which can induce migraines.

In a research study, “more than a third of those who used TMS were pain-free after 2 hours, compared to 22% who did not get TMS” and another promising study showed “38% of those who used a TMS device were pain-free 2 hours later, compared to 10% who didn’t use the device.”

Unlike some medications and treatment methods, TMS has mild to no side effects. Since NeuroStar® does not circulate in the blood throughout the body, it does not have side effects such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction, nausea, dry mouth, or sedation. The most common side effect reported was scalp discomfort occurring less frequently after the first week of treatment.

TMS Center of the Lehigh Valley is the Allentown area’s premiere provider of TMS therapy for depression.

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