Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Migraine Facts and Helpful Treatments

Military personnel receiving treatment for headaches Lt. Col. (Dr.) Chester Barton, 374th Ear Nose and Throat Clinic otolaryngologist, administers Botox shots to Master Sgt. Danira Estrada, 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron section chief at Yokota Air Base, Japan. Botox shots treat migraines by relaxing muscles that cause pain (Photo by: Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Baker, 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs).

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Migraine headaches feel like an attack on your brain and body that can send you to lie in a dark room in total stillness to ward off symptoms.

What are migraines? "Migraine is a disabling neurological disease in which headaches are associated with neurological symptoms that may differ from individual to individual," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Cristina Cruzcrespo, chief of Neurology at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "The exact cause is unknown, but it is believed that genetics and environment play a role. Migraine may also run in families," she explained.

If you've ever had a migraine, you may describe it as a heavy, throbbing, pounding, or pulsating pain that prohibits your usual activities, Cruzcrespo said. The migraine may start on one side of your head and move to the front or the back, she explained.

Some people experience prodrome symptoms that "occur before the migraine by several hours or days," Cruzcrespo said. "Typical symptoms are extreme tiredness, yawning, irritability, mood changes, neck discomfort, difficulty concentrating, and food cravings."

"Some people experience aura, which are warning signs occurring minutes before a headache," she said. "Typical aura includes vision changes - such as blurry vision, seeing flashes of light, blind spots, shapes or bright spots - tingling, numbness in the extremities, or difficulty speaking."

During a migraine, the headache, which can be moderate or severe, can worsen with physical activities, Cruzcrespo said. "You may feel nausea and/or experience vomiting, and you may experience sensitivity to light, noise and/or smells."

Migraine sufferers also can experience a "migraine hangover," she said. "The symptoms include fatigue, body aches, trouble concentrating, or dizziness."

Migraines can last from four hours to several days. Yet all migraines include all the phases. The symptoms vary from person to person, Cruzcrespo noted.

Some people just experience aura but not headache, or nausea and vomiting without headache, said Ann Scher, who holds a doctorate in epidemiology and serves as the director of Epidemiology and Statistics at the Uniformed Services University's Department of Preventive Medicine and Biostatistics, in Bethesda, Maryland.

Who Gets Migraines?

Scher said migraine starts about equally in prevalence in boys and girls, but by adulthood, about 18 percent of women get migraines versus 6 percent of men. That is a ratio of three-to-one. "There are theories as to why women continue to get more migraines than men, but no definitive answer," Scher said.

Twenty-five to 30 percent of migraine sufferers get aura, she noted.

There are 39 million American men, women, and children with migraines, which means 17 percent of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with migraines at some point during their lives. However, that number is an underestimate, Scher said, because not everyone gets a diagnosis of migraine.

Migraine ranks second among the world's causes of disability-adjusted life years (behind back pain) due to the number of migraines experienced over a lifetime and is the first-ranked disability among young women, according to a recently published 2019 "Global Burden of Disease" study from the World Health Organization.

Military personnel wearing a face mask receiving treatment for headaches
Air Force Col. Kirsten Aguilar, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and 673d Air Base Wing commander, participates in a Cephaly treatment during a 673d Medical Operations Squadron immersion tour at JBER, Alaska. A Cephaly device uses electrical impulses that treat and prevent migraine headaches without the use of medication or its side effects (Photo by: Senior Airman Crystal Jenkins, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs).

Treatment & Triggers

Communication is key to helping to control migraines, said Michael Oshinsky, who holds a doctorate of neuroscience and serves as the program director for pain and migraine at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Make sure you communicate with your physician that you have migraines. Migraine is very manageable if you build a plan that works for the individual."

That plan may indicate the use of over-the-counter medications, prescription oral drugs, monthly infusions, or neuromodulation through devices aimed at nerves that trigger migraine symptoms. Field kits for active-duty service members should be tailored to the regimen of treatment and prevention of migraines that works for every individual. "It's got to be the right plan for the individual and should be figured out before they are deployed," Oshinsky said.

The number one trigger for migraine is stress, Oshinsky said, adding, another trigger is strong emotional experiences - be they happy or sad - because of the significant changes in neurotransmitters within the brain.

Oshinsky also said that certain behaviors trigger migraines but noted that some of these factors cannot be controlled during a deployment. All migraine patients should:

  • Keep well hydrated
  • Go to bed and rise at the same hours each day
  • Don't skip meals
  • Watch out for hormonal changes

Bright lights (sunlight, computer screens, or fluorescent lamps) also can be a trigger, Cruzcrespo said.

There are many oral drugs to prevent migraines that need to be taken daily. They include three different drug classes: anti-seizure medications, beta-blockers (blood pressure medications), and antidepressants (depression and/or anxiety medications), Cruzcrespo said.

"Abortive medications are prescribed to be taken at the onset of headaches or aura," she said. These agents include an ergotamine derivative, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, "triptans," calcitonin gene-related peptide inhibitors called "gepants," and the immunologics, which are administered subcutaneously once a month or quarterly via an infusion in the provider's office.

Said Cruzcrespo: "Some procedures can be performed at the physician's office to prevent headaches or as adjunctive treatment." Botox injections for headache are performed quarterly for prevention. "Other procedures are performed more frequently, including peripheral nerve blocks, trigger point injections, and sphenopalatine ganglion block (SPG block)," she said.

There are also rescue medications (tranquilizers and sedatives) for a breakthrough migraine while on medication. Breakthrough migraines should be factored into your treatment plan, Oshinsky said.

Additionally, there are new treatments that use neuromodulation of various nerves to treat migraine, he said. These devices include single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation, external non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator, external trigeminal nerve stimulation, and an electrical stimulation arm patch that stimulates another nerve that can create migraine.

Other, nonmedical treatments may include yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, Scher said.

"It's important for anybody who's having headaches that interfere with their lives to see a doctor, preferably a neurologist or headache disorder specialist, because there are treatments for migraine that might be effective for that individual," she advised.

You also may be interested in...

Prevent to Protect: Immunization Awareness

Video
8/30/2019
Prevent to Protect: Immunization Awareness

Getting vaccinated not only protects yourself and your family from deadly diseases, but it also saves the lives to those who don’t have the immune system to fend for themselves. The Military Health System shares the stories of families with children who are at risk when others aren’t immunized.

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunizations

Prevent to Protect: Barbara and Floriann

Video
8/30/2019
Prevent to Protect: Barbara and Floriann

Barbara’s son Floriann grew up with an immune dysregulation. A Uniformed Services University pathology professor, she’s experienced first hand the importance of vaccines.

Recommended Content:

Immunization Healthcare | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunizations

Shingrix Vaccine 2019

Infographic
3/26/2019
Fact Sheet about Shingrix, the FDA-approved vaccine to prevent shingles for healthy adults, age 50 and over

Infographic about Shingrix, the FDA-approved vaccine to prevent shingles for healthy adults, age 50 and over

Recommended Content:

Shingles | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunizations

2018 #ColdReadiness Twitter chat recap: Preventing cold weather injuries for service members and their families

Fact Sheet
2/5/2018

To help protect U.S. armed forces, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch (AFHSB) hosted a live #ColdReadiness Twitter chat on Wednesday, January 24th, 12-1:30 pm EST to discuss what service members and their families need to know about winter safety and preventing cold weather injuries as the temperatures drop. This fact sheet documents highlights from the Twitter chat.

Recommended Content:

Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Winter Safety | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Health Readiness

Absolute and Relative Morbidity Burdens Attributable to Various Illnesses and Injuries, Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016

Infographic
6/19/2017
Did you know  … ? In 2016, essential hypertension accounted for 52,586 encounters for health care among 29,612 active component service members in the U.S. Armed Forces. Of all cardiovascular diseases, essential hypertension is by far the most common specific condition diagnosed among active duty service members. Untreated hypertension increases the risks of subsequent ischemic heart disease (heart attack), cerebrovascular disease (stroke), and kidney failure. CHART: Healthcare burdens attributable to cardiovascular diseases, active component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2016 Major condition: •	For all other cardiovascular the number of medical encounters was 70,781, Rank 29, number of individuals affected was 35,794 with a rank of 30. The number of bed days was 4,285 with a rank of 21. •	For essential hypertension the number of medical encounters was 52,586, rank 35, number of individuals affected was 29,612 with a rank of 35. The number of bed days was 151 with a rank of 86. •	For cerebrovascular disease the number of medical encounters was 7,772, rank 79, number of individuals affected was 1,708, with a rank of 96. The number of bed days was 2,107 with a rank of 32. •	For ischemic heart disease the number of medical encounters was 6,629, rank 83, number of individuals affected 2,399 with a rank of 87. The number of bed days was 1,140 with a rank of 42. •	For inflammatory the number of medical encounters was 2,221, rank 106, number of individuals affected 1,302 with a rank of 97. The number of bed days was 297 with a rank of 72. •	For rheumatic heart disease the number of medical encounters was 319, rank 125, number of individuals affected 261, with a rank of 121. The number of bed days was 2 with a rank of 133. Learn more about healthcare burdens attributable to various diseases and injuries by visiting Health.mil/MSMRArchives. #LoveYourHeart Infogaphic graphic features transparent graphic of a man’s heart illuminated within his chest.

This infographic documents healthcare burdens attributable to cardiovascular diseases among active component, U.S. Armed Forces in 2016.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Men's Health | Heart Health

Flag Football Game

Photo
9/28/2016
Youth participate in a flag football game on Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Travis Gershaneck)

Youth participate in a flag football game on Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Arizona. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Travis Gershaneck)

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Physical Fitness

Healthy aging starts sooner than you think

Photo
9/23/2016
Air Force Staff Sgt. Nick Crouse, a medical technician with the 193rd Special Operations Wing's Medical Group out of Middletown, Pennsylvania, takes the blood pressure of a patient. Heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are three ailments that take a huge toll on the body as it ages. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Air Force Staff Sgt. Nick Crouse, a medical technician with the 193rd Special Operations Wing's Medical Group out of Middletown, Pennsylvania, takes the blood pressure of a patient. Heart disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are three ailments that take a huge toll on the body as it ages. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Back to School Health and Safety Checklist

Infographic
8/4/2016
Health and Safety Checklist for Back to School

This infographic provides a going back to school health and safety checklist.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health | Immunizations

The HPV Vaccine Saves Lives

Infographic
5/16/2016
The Defense Department recommends male and female military service members, ages 17-26 years, receive an HPV vaccine series to generate a robust immune response to the quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV4). This graphic highlights information the benefits of the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective among fully vaccinated individuals.   Cancer Prevention Facts •	HPV is the most common sexually  transmitted infection (STI) •	There are more than 40 HPV types that can infect the genital areas •	Some HPV types give warts •	Some HPV types develop cancer  Effective Against STI Transmission •	The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect yourself from the virus •	The HPV vaccine provides nearly 100% protection from HPV types 6,11,16 and 18 •	HPV vaccine shows early signs of success in reducing HPV infections and related illnesses •	Protection is expected to be long-lasting  Safety Tips •	Getting your HPV vaccine and practicing safe sex such as wearing a condom may lower the risk of HPV •	Limiting the number of lifetime sex partners can also lower the risk of HPV •	When given the HPV vaccine, the body makes antibodies in response to the protection to clear it from the body  Get the Facts •	2,091 female service members aged 17-26 years received 1-3 HPV4 doses during 2006-2012, stratified by number of doses (1, 2, or 3).  Get the HPV Vaccine •	Only 22.5% of eligible service members initiated the series •	Of those, only 39.1% completed the full three-dose series as of June 2011.  Even though the 3 dose regiment provides nearly complete protection against HPV16 and HPV18, in the U.S., only 12% and 19% of female adolescents among commercial and Medicaid plans respectively complete the series.  Read HPV Facts from the CDC: https://www.ok.gov/health2/documents/IMM_Teens_HPV_Facts.pdf  Read the STI issue of the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report at Health.Mil/MSMR   Get the conversation started. Ask your healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine today. Follow us on Twitter @AFHSBPAGE and use hashtag #VaccinesWork.

The Defense Department recommends male and female military service members, ages 17-26 years, receive an HPV vaccine series to generate a robust immune response to the quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine (HPV4).

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunizations | Men's Health | Human Papillomavirus | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Women's Health

Study Finds Strong Immune Response to HPV Vaccine Among Female Service Members

Report
5/11/2016

A new study of female service members that examined their immune response to a vaccine to combat the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer showed development of antibodies in 80 to 99 percent of recipients against each of the four strains of the disease.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Public Health | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Breast Cancer

Infographic
5/9/2016
infographic about the breast cancer and how to protect against it.

In the U.S., with the exception of skin cancer, breast cancer accounts for the greatest number of cancer diagnoses in women and the second most common cause of female cancer-related deaths. This infographic shows seven ways to protect yourself from breast cancer.

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Women's Health

Breathing techniques

Photo
2/26/2016
Airmen and Soldiers practice breathing and relaxation during their off duty time in a deployed location. Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Airmen and Soldiers practice breathing and relaxation during their off duty time in a deployed location. Stress can take its toll on your mental and physical health, including your heart health, but there are breathing techniques to buffer yourself from it. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Psychological Fitness

Practice Healthy Living Habits

Infographic
1/19/2016
Infographic listing 5 key healthy habits for the new year

A list of healthy living habits you can take on in 2016.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Nutritional Fitness | Physical Fitness | Tobacco-Free Living | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Cervical Health Awareness Month

Infographic
1/11/2016
Infographic about Cervical Health Awareness month

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness

Preventive Health Tip 4

Infographic
8/24/2015
Preventive Health Tip #4: Healthy Dental Habits

Encourage your child to practice healthy dental habits

Recommended Content:

Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Children's Health
<< < ... 6 7 > >> 
Showing results 76 - 90 Page 6 of 7

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.