Migraine Headaches: What You Need to Know Video and Transcript

Carolyn A. Bernstein, MD

  • Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School

Some people are more susceptible to developing headaches than others. Migraines are genetic. They run in families. Even if someone didn't have a clear diagnosis of migraine, a patient may remember a parent or grandparent who had what used to be called a sick headache, where they'd have to go to bed and lie down in the dark. Oftentimes that implies that there's family history migraine.

With migraines, in particular, there's a real difference between men and women. Women tend to have headaches three times as frequently as men do. We think the reason for that is hormonal. A lot of women who do have migraines notice that their migraines get much less frequent once they go through menopause.

Migraine headaches are often one sided and they're accompanied by vomiting and by light sensitivity. Sometimes people experience changes before they get the headache where they'll see flashing lights, have trouble speaking and get numb on one side of their body or the other.

Medical treatments for headaches include lots of different kinds of medications. I tell people that every medication has side effects and it's really important to ask your health care professional to explain those to you and to give you some written information about potential side effects. There are treatments such as botulinum toxin that can be injected into your head in multiple sites. It can really help if you have a lot of migraines. There is a procedure called a nerve block where half of your head can be almost anesthetized so that you don't feel the pain.

People often ask if there are long-term health implications from having headaches. Research is beginning to tell us that yes, for certain types of headaches, there may actually be increased health risks, such as cardiovascular risk for women who have migraines. So if you have headaches you really want to talk to your primary care doctor about it and ask if a referral to a headache specialist is appropriate for you.

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