Migraine, Cephalgia, Headache

We all get small headaches once in a while. Some people, however, suffer from migraines which are significantly more severe. In addition to the obvious headache, migraine causes weakness, vision problems, nausea and sensitivity to light and noise. Over time, it can also affect the morale of migraine sufferers. For some, migraines are intermittent while for others, they are continuously present.

One out of every five people suffer from migraines and, on average, they have one attack a month. Women are typically twice as likely to suffer from migraines as men. Migraines in women are often linked to their menstrual cycles. In 70% of the cases, migraine sufferers come from families where there is history of migraine.

How to tell a migraine apart from other types of headaches

CharacteristicsTypes of headaches
MigraineVascular headache
Tension headache
FrequencyOnce a year to three times a dayOnce every two days to eight times a dayLess than once every two days
SeverityModerate to severeVery severeMild to moderate
DurationA few hours to a few daysA few minutes to a few hoursA few minutes to a several days
LocationOften unilateral (on one side of the head)Always unilateral (on one side of the head)Bilateral (both sides of the head) with neck pain
QualityPulsating or throbbingPenetrating no pulsating or throbbing Pressing
Additional symptomsNausea, vomiting, hypersensitivity to light and soundTearing, congestion, sweatingSensitivity to light and sound

Migraine Triggers

Certain factors can trigger migraines. It is important to identify what may trigger migraines and avoid them if possible in order to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines.

Hormonal fluctuations
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstruation
  • Puberty
  • Alcohol (particularly red wine)
  • Aspartame and monosodium glutamate
  • Coffee and cola
  • Chocolate
  • Deli meat
  • Cheese
Sensory Stimuli
  • Sudden changes in weather (thunderstorm, storm, etc.)
  • Intense lighting or noise
  • Smells
  • Skipping meals
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Stress

Certain types of drugs, such as oral contraceptives, can cause migraines. Also, the repeated use of analgesics (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to relieve headaches, may lead to migraines. In fact, the body becomes somewhat accustomed to this type of chronic use and, as a result, the body's natural pain coping mechanisms become "defective" once the medication is discontinued, which causes headaches. This phenomenon is known as rebound headaches.

Headhache Diary

It is recommanded that you keep a headhache diary. You can record the following information about your headhache:

  • Their frequency;
  • Their intensity;
  • The link with your periods;
  • The others symptoms;
  • The suspected dietary triggers;
  • The efficacity and the sides effects of the medications used.
This diary will be useful, to you and to your doctor, to draw up a plan of effective treatment to master your headache. Ask your pharmacist for an example of a diary.

Migraine Phases

  1. Prodrome: About 60% of migraine sufferers experience prodromes. Early signs such as stiff muscles, especially in the neck, and mood swings are usually telltale signs that a migraine will develop within the next hours or days.
  2. Aura : About 20% of migraine sufferers experience auras. Blood vessels contract, leading to several problems (blurred or cloudy vision, tingling or numbness, buzzing, speech disturbance, etc.).
  3. Pain : During this phase, the blood vessels in the face and head dilate. Localized pressure increases, causing pain.


Generally speaking, migraine sufferers should avoid trigger foods (mentioned above) and reduce stress as much as possible since stress seems to be a factor that promotes or precipitates migraines. During a migraine attack, it is recommended that sufferers lie down where it is cool, quiet and dark. Partial relief can be obtained by applying ice to the head.

If you experience occasional headaches only, you can relieve them with an analgesic such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. These products are available at your local pharmacy. Check with your healthcare professional to find out if these products are safe for you.

When migraines cannot be managed or when they become incapacitating in that they interfere with daily activities, a physician can prescribe stronger medication. Certain products can help prevent migraines or reduce the number of attacks. They are primarily given to those who suffer from several or severe attacks.

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