Migraines — long-lasting headaches that can cause powerful, throbbing pain and other symptoms — can disrupt life in a variety of ways and may be nothing short of debilitating.

Chronic migraines occur on at least 15 days each month, as opposed to episodic migraines, which happen less frequently. Both conditions share risk factors, symptoms and treatments.

Risk Factors

If you have episodic migraines, a variety of factors can put you at greater risk for developing chronic migraines over time, including:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Asthma
  • High caffeine intake
  • Injury to the head or neck
  • Obesity
  • Overuse of medications to control episodic migraines
  • Snoring
  • Stress


Like episodic migraines, the most common symptom of chronic migraines is head pain that ranges from moderate to intense. The pain may be pulsing or feel like dull, constant pressure. One or both sides of your head may hurt, and the pain may get worse when you walk around or exercise. Migraine symptoms aren’t limited to headaches, however, and in the case of atypical or variant migraines, there may be only minor or no head pain with other symptoms causing disruption to normal activities.

Other migraine symptoms may include:

  • Aversion to light, noise or odors
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Neck stiffness
  • Sweating
  • Vision changes


You can take many steps to reduce your chances of developing chronic migraines, including:

  • Follow an eating routine. Eat meals and snacks at the same times each day, and don’t skip meals.
  • Get mental health help if you need it. If you have symptoms of anxiety or depression, seek medical attention so you can start treatment as soon as possible.
  • Identifying your triggers. A variety of things can prompt a migraine, from stress and sensory elements, such as flashing lights and strong odors, to menstrual cycles and certain medications. Other common triggers include foods and beverages, such as alcohol, caffeine, nuts, beans and processed meat. You may be able to pinpoint additional causes and identify when episodic migraines seem to be transitioning to chronic migraines by keeping a headache journal.
  • Move more. Regular exercise can help you manage stress and achieve a healthy weight, both of which can reduce your chronic migraine risk.

Diagnosing Migraines

Your physician will conduct a physical exam and ask about your overall health and lifestyle. Importantly, he or she will ask for a detailed history of your experience with migraines, including:

  • How and when your headaches begin
  • How long the headaches last
  • What the pain feels like and what other symptoms you experience
  • What treatments you’ve tried to control your symptoms

Keeping a headache journal can ensure you’re able to provide the information your physician will need to make an accurate diagnosis.

Treating Episodic and Chronic Migraines

Treatments for migraines fall into two categories — those that help blunt the effect of headaches when they occur and those that help prevent migraines from occurring. Your physician may create a plan that includes both types of treatment.

  • Acute treatment. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, when a migraine begins may help keep the pain from becoming severe. You may also need a prescription medication to treat pain, as well as medications that treat other migraine symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting.
  • Preventive treatment. To reduce the number of migraines you experience, your physician may recommend lifestyle changes, BOTOX® therapy, or biofeedback to help with stress management.

Find a Baptist Health provider who can help you manage migraines.

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