What is an Acute Migraine?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 January 2020
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An acute migraine is a severe headache that comes on suddenly and often causes nausea, light sensitivity, and fatigue. Migraines may be triggered by one of a number of different factors, including alcohol withdrawal, intense light or sounds, stress, or hormonal imbalances. Most migraines can be treated at home with pain relievers and several hours of rest. A person who experiences an acute migraine for the first time or has an especially severe episode should visit the emergency room to receive a proper diagnosis and learn about treatment options.

An individual may experience telling symptoms of an impending acute migraine before it actually occurs. Vision changes called auras often affect both eyes about half an hour before a migraine. Auras produce blurry or spotty vision, eye pain, and subtle feelings of nausea. Once a migraine actually sets in, a person is likely to develop a throbbing, dull headache that may be accompanied by chills, weakness, vomiting, and sweating.

Another form of migraine, called an acute confusional episode, is almost exclusively experienced by young children. An acute confusional migraine may or may not cause a headache, but most episodes do result in disorientation, lapses in cognitive ability, and vomiting. Several hours of sleep is often enough to recover from this type of problem.


An acute migraine can usually be overcome in a few hours by resting, avoiding light and sound, drinking water, and taking over-the-counter pain medications. People who are able to fall asleep often begin to feel better when they wake up. A severe migraine may necessitate a trip to the emergency room. Doctors and nurses can ask about symptoms, provide oral or intravenous drugs, and conduct diagnostic tests to check for underlying problems.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may reveal obvious problems, such as tumors or cerebral contusions, which need to be treated accordingly with surgery or medication. Most MRIs for migraines do not show actual brain damage. Once the patient is feeling better, the doctor can prescribe medication and explain the physiology of an acute migraine. He or she explains the importance of recognizing warning signs, such as auras, and taking immediate steps to prevent a slight headache from progressing into a full migraine.

In some people, migraines become chronic problems that involve frequent, long-lasting episodes. An individual who experiences chronic head pain should visit a neurologist for a thorough examination. The doctor can take additional MRIs and an electroencephalogram to look for signs of seizure disorders, infections, and other conditions that may be making the patient's migraines worse. Individuals are often prescribed medications to take during attacks or daily as preventive care.


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Post 9

I get pain any time of the day and do not know what to do. Nothing shows up in testing. Avoiding things gives relief for a while, but that does not mean we youngsters can quit something when we are addicted to things. Medicine can be a quick resolution but not for longer episodes has it been helpful for me. Any way out, people?

Post 8

@cloudel-- Her migraines might have been related to hormonal changes.

I get acute menstrual migraines around the time of my period, every month. My mother used to get them too when she was young and after her forties, it all went away and she never gets them now that she's in menopause.

I never worry when I get an acute migraine because I know it's hormone related. It is very debilitating though, especially if I'm outside. If I'm home, I just take a nap. I close all the curtains to make my room dark, close the door and go to sleep. The migraine and nausea slowly goes away.

Post 7

I think you should definitely go to the doctor if you have what you think is an acute migraine for the first time. A lot of other things can cause the same symptoms as a migraine, but might need other treatment.

My boyfriend had viral meningitis awhile back, and when he originally got sick, I thought he was having a migraine. He had an extremely severe headache and he was very sensitive to light.

However, he'd never had a migraine before, so I convinced him to go to the doctor. Once we got there, we found out that he wasn't having a migraine, he had meningitis! He had to be admitted to the hospital and everything.

Post 6

@KaBoom - I actually have a friend that had to go on temporary disability for her migraines. She got pregnant, and pregnancy can actually make migraines occur more frequently. And it interferes with acute migraine therapy, because you can't take some medications while you are pregnant.

However, once she had the baby she wasn't getting migraines as much, so now she isn't on disability anymore.

I have to say though, I am extremely glad I don't suffer for migraines. I visited my friend at her place a lot while she was pregnant, and I was there once when she got a migraine. I could tell she was in serious pain!

Post 5

One of my friend's fathers has acute migraines. In fact, his acute migraine symptoms occurred so often he ended up having to quit his job and go on disability.

Since his migraines would come on suddenly, even getting to work was hard. He couldn't drive, so he would take public transit. However, sometimes he would get acute migraines on the metro and miss his stop.

Also, the migraine symptoms made it virtually impossible to work if he did manage to actually get there. So, he was a pretty good candidate for disability.

Post 4

@lighth0se33 - Many over-the-counter migraine treatments contain caffeine. I have heard that it helps enhance the power of pain relievers like acetaminophen.

I tested out this theory when I got a headache. I didn’t have any pain relievers containing caffeine on hand, but I did have a caffeinated soda. I drank it with the extra strength acetaminophen pills, and it relieved my headache quickly.

It’s good to know this little trick if you don’t have any medication tailored specifically for migraines on hand when you feel one coming on at work. Most workplaces keep a supply of OTC painkillers on hand, and most break rooms have vending machines with caffeinated sodas.

Post 3

@cloudel - I have a friend who is currently experiencing chronic migraines, and no one can tell him why, either. He avoids all of the triggers except stress, which is simply unavoidable in his job.

He has even gone so far as to participate in a clinical trial for a new migraine treatment, but it seemed to only make his headaches worse. He said that his symptoms vary. Sometimes, he will have only the nausea, but other times, he will have just the pain.

He carries caffeine pills around with him, because caffeine is supposed to alleviate migraines. Pain relievers don’t work on him much anymore, because his body has built up a tolerance to them. All he can really do is lie down in a dark room once he gets a migraine.

Post 2

Some migraine causes are never discovered. My mother experienced debilitating migraines for years, and her doctors never found the source of the problem.

She had to miss so much work that she eventually just quit. She would have the nausea, the light sensitivity, and the pain at once, and she would have me drive her to the doctor for a shot. This shot would knock her out for hours, and it seemed to be the only solution.

She saw several doctors and had a head MRI, but it revealed nothing. Eventually, she just stopped getting migraines. It is very rare for her to have one these days, and she never experiences strings of them anymore.

Post 1

I have had a migraine without a headache before, and the first time that it happened, I thought I was going blind. I suddenly lost about half of my visual field, and I woke my mother up to tell her that I couldn’t see.

Luckily, my dad had already experienced this type of migraine. His eye doctor had told him it was just a migraine without the pain, and it would go away on its own.

I have had several of these since that night, and each time, they last 25 minutes. I lose most of my vision in one eye, and for the duration of the migraine, I can’t read or drive. It’s inconvenient when it happens at work, but I’m just glad I don’t have the pain that usually follows this.

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