Migraine symptoms can significantly affect your life. Severe or frequent attacks force some people to put their lives on hold.

At Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Neuroscience Institute, we work with you to diagnose and relieve your pain. We use personalized treatment plans and a wide range of treatment options – including promising new medications that may prevent migraines from starting – to get you much-needed migraine relief.

What is a migraine?

Migraines involve much more than throbbing head pain. They are the subject of intense investigation by medical researchers, and physicians currently believe that a migraine is a medical disorder that affects the brain and nervous system. Doctors still have much to learn about the exact cause of migraines and the most effective ways to treat them.

Although people usually experience migraine headaches on one side of the head, some people have pain on both sides. A migraine attack can last hours or even days, and some people may only find comfort by lying down in a quiet, dark room.

Learn more about other types of headaches, including cluster headaches and tension headaches.

Migraine symptoms

People may experience migraine symptoms differently. The most typical migraine symptom is an intense throbbing and pounding pain, which may come with nausea and vomiting or extreme sensitivity to light and sounds. There are known migraine symptoms that often occur before, during, or after an attack:

Common symptoms before a migraine

One or two days before a migraine, you may notice slight changes that indicate an oncoming migraine, including:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Food cravings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Neck stiffness
  • Uncontrollable yawning

Common symptoms during a migraine

Some people experience an aura (visual change) or other nervous system symptoms that usually begin slowly and may last for 20 to 60 minutes, including:

  • Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
  • Speech or language problems (aphasia)
  • Vision loss
  • Visual phenomena, such as seeing various shapes, bright spots, or flashes of light

When untreated, a migraine usually lasts from four hours to three days. This timeframe differs in each person. You may have migraines several times a month or much less often. You may experience any or all of these symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain on one side or both sides of your head
  • A pulsating, throbbing pain
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, and sometimes smells

Common symptoms after a migraine

The final phase of a migraine is known as postdrome, or after the attack. During this time people often feel drained and washed out. Some people report feeling mildly euphoric, or overjoyed.

Diagnosing migraines

We offer expert guidance on headache care. We may recommend imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis or rule out other potential causes of your pain.

We talk with you to help pinpoint the cause of your headache pain. During a thorough medical history and physical examination, we may ask you about:

  • Location of pain: Where do you feel the headache pain?
  • Severity: How severe is the pain?
  • Frequency: How often do you experience headache pain?
  • Symptoms: Do you have other symptoms, such as visual disturbances or nausea?
  • Patterns: Have you noticed any patterns, including what may trigger headaches?
  • Treatments: What treatments have you tried so far? Have they helped?

Treating migraines

We pursue multiple options when treating migraines. Our physicians work with you to determine the best treatment choice (or choices) for your situation and symptoms. Read more about our expert approach to headache care.

Migraine treatments include:

  • Oral medication: Medications target migraine symptoms in different ways. Some provide fast-acting migraine pain relief, while others minimize symptoms such as nausea and vertigo. Clinical trials are testing promising new medications that focus on preventing migraines altogether.
  • Infusion therapy : Our on-site infusion center gives medicine intravenously (through an IV in your arm) to people who have migraines that have lasted for several days.
  • Non-medication therapies: Changing your routines or habits may also improve your migraine symptoms. Our physicians help people find migraine relief through:
    • Alternative therapy
    • Biofeedback
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy
    • Diet changes
    • Stress management techniques

Contact us

To request an appointment at the AHN Headache Center, call (412) 578-3925 in Pittsburgh or (814) 452-7575 in Erie.

Find us

AHN Headache Center
West Penn Hospital
4815 Liberty Avenue, Suite 439
Pittsburgh, PA 15224