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Migraine headaches affect an estimated 28 million people in the United States. Characterized by intense pain on one side of the head or behind an eye or ear, these headaches can be brought on by certain triggers, such as food, lack of sleep, or light. However, the exact causes are unknown. Treatment options for a migraine may include medications, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments.

What Is a Migraine?

A migraine is a medical condition characterized by severe pain felt on one, and sometimes both, sides of the head. The pain is mostly in the front, around the temples, or behind one eye or ear. Besides having pain, people with a migraine may have nausea and vomiting, and be very sensitive to light and sound.
It is the second most common headache syndrome in the United States (behind tension headaches). It is estimated that nearly 28 million Americans have this type of headache and 157 million workdays each year are lost due to the headaches' severity. Nearly half of all the estimated migraine sufferers are either undiagnosed or untreated.
Although both men and women can get these headaches, about three out of every four people who have them are women (see Women and Migraines). Most often, they affect people between the ages of 15 and 55. They often improve as the person ages. However, at this time, there is no cure.


There are actually several different types of migraines. The two most common types are migraine with aura and migraine without aura. During a migraine with aura, a person has visual symptoms (also called an "aura") 10 minutes to 30 minutes before an attack. During a migraine without aura, a person does not have an aura but does have the other symptoms.
Several other less-common types include:
  • Hemiplegic migraine
  • Opthalmoplegic migraine
  • Basilar artery migraine
  • Benign exertional headache
  • Status migrainosus
  • Migraine aura without headache
  • Abdominal migraine.
(Click Types of Migraines to learn more.)
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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