If you’ve ever had a migraine or had a loved one suffer from them, you’ll know just how crippling they can be. Nearly 13 percent of Americans suffer from migraines, and around five million experience at least one per month! Many who are unfamiliar believe migraines are really bad headaches. But that’s only part of the condition. So, what are migraines, and if you’ve been struck down by one, how can you find relief?

What Are Migraines?

The simplest way to describe a migraine is severe headaches, but with a slew of other symptoms. While scientists haven’t identified an exact cause of migraines, there are several factors that may make you more likely to get them. Chief among these is your family history. If one of your parents experiences migraines, you’re 40 percent more likely to get them. If both parents suffered migraines, that raises to 90 percent. One study found that you’re even more likely to experience them earlier in life.

Since migraines are a type of headache, pain is a common symptom. Unlike other headaches, this pain is severe and can affect your entire head or move from side to side. The pain is often described as throbbing or pounding. Other symptoms include sensitivity to light or sounds, blurred vision, and nausea/vomiting. Sometimes, you won’t even feel pain, with this condition called a silent migraine. You may also experience an aura, which is described zigzagging lines or light across your vision.

Dealing with the Symptoms

Once you feel a migraine coming on (and if you’ve had one, you’ll know when one is brewing), your first thought will be “how can I stop this?” Luckily, there are many ways that you can combat a developing migraine. The most common among these is with medication. Taking medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can relieve some pain from a migraine, but are ineffective against severe migraines on their own. Medications called triptans are effective at relieving the symptoms of a migraine. Ergotamines and NSAIDS can also help make migraines tolerable.

If you don’t want to take medicine, there are other options out there. Caffeine, in small amounts, can help reduce pain from headaches. Too much caffeine, though, can actually cause migraines. You can also try relaxing or sleeping through a migraine in a dark, quiet room since light worsens migraines.

If nothing has been working for you, don’t give up hope. While they’re not as proven as medication, there are many home remedies and herbal/supplement options that may offer relief. If none of these work, visit your doctor. They may be able to give more in-depth help with your migraines.

There are lifestyle changes you can make to prevent migraines. Getting enough sleep or managing your stress can be lifesavers. Avoiding triggers is an effective method for preventing migraines in the future. A migraine trigger can be almost anything — a certain smell, a flash of bright light, or even changing weather conditions.

When Do Migraines Become Chronic?

An occasional migraine is bad, but for some people, it’s a crippling condition called chronic migraine. The diagnosis of chronic migraine is when you experience a migrainous headache on 15 or more days each month, with at least eight of those migraines. One way to tell if you may have chronic migraine is by maintaining a headache diary. Speak to your primary care physician if you believe you have chronic migraine.

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Migraines can be a debilitating condition, forcing you to miss out on much of your life. By working with your doctor, making lifestyle changes, and knowing how to relieve symptoms, you can prevent migraines from taking over your life.