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Q: What causes migraines and how can I prevent them?

If you've ever had migraines, you know they are not the same as regular headaches. With a migraine, people often feel a severe ache or throbbing, often on one side of their head. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting, and can become extremely sensitive to light and sound. It's also common for people to experience an "aura" before or during the migraine—such as seeing bright spots or flashes of light, feeling pins and needles, or hearing noises.

The causes of migraines aren't entirely understood. They might be linked to inflammatory changes or neurochemical imbalance in the brain. But whatever the underlying cause, there are a number of environmental factors that are common triggers, like alcohol, coffee, stress, lack of sleep or changes in sleep patterns, bright lights and strong smells, processed and salty foods, and certain medications. For women, hormonal changes around menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can also be a trigger.

You don't have to live with migraines. Many people can reduce the frequency of migraines, or stop them altogether, by making lifestyle changes and avoiding their migraine triggers. For others, there are medications you can take that stop symptoms during a migraine attack, or prevent migraines from occurring. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for treatment.