Migraine and Headache Glossary

Abdominal migraine: a migraine, more common in children and adolescents, that is associated with cyclic vomiting (symptoms occur about once a month).

Abortive medications: medications that are used to stop the headache process and prevent symptoms of migraines, including pain, nausea, sound and light sensitivity, etc.; they are most effective when used at the first sign of a migraine to stop the process which causes the headache pain.

Abscess: a localized collection of pus in tissues, organs, or confined spaces usually due to an infection

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Acupuncture: an ancient Chinese system of health care that involves procedures to stimulate anatomical points of the body; the procedure usually is done with very fine, solid needles, but pressure, magnets, electrical stimulation and other techniques can be used. Acupuncture stimulates the body's ability to resist or overcome illnesses and conditions by correcting energy imbalances. Acupuncture also prompts the body to produce chemicals that decrease or eliminate painful sensations.

Acute: sudden; occurs quickly and generally, without warning

Acute headaches: headaches that occur suddenly for the first time with symptoms that subside after a relatively short period of time; they are usually due to an illness, infection, cold, or fever.

Acute recurrent headaches: see Migraines

Adrenaline (epinephrine): the neurotransmitter of the adrenal gland that is secreted in moments of crisis; it stimulates the heart to beat faster and work harder, increases the flow of blood to the muscles, causes an increased alertness of mind, and produces other changes to prepare the body to meet an emergency. It is also a chemical messenger in the brain.

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Analgesic: pain-relieving medication

Analgesic-rebound headache: see Rebound headache

Aneurysm: a weak part of an artery in the brain that may bulge outward and occasionally rupture and bleed, leading to a condition called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which produces a severe headache and stiff neck, and can sometimes be fatal

Anticonvulsant: a type of medication used to treat convulsive seizures, or epilepsy; some of these types of medications are also used to prevent headaches, even when the headaches aren't associated with seizures.

Antidepressant: a type of medication used primarily to treat depression; some of these medications have been useful in treating headaches, even when headaches aren't associated with depression.

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Antiemetics: a class of medications used to treat nausea and/or vomiting

Antihistamine: a drug that counteracts the action of histamine, an agent in the body that causes itching and flushing of the skin such as in an allergic reaction

Anti-inflammatory: a type of medication used to decrease inflammation; this type of medication is most commonly used to treat the inflammation of arthritis and other inflammatory disorders, but can also be useful in reducing the pain of certain types of headaches.

Arnold-Chiari deformity: a congenital abnormality in which the back part of the brain (cerebellum) and brain stem protrude down into the spinal canal through the large hole at the base of the skull where the spinal cord passes; it may be associated with many other defects, including a certain form of spina bifida, and can cause headaches.

Aspartame: an artificial sweetener that can cause a headache in some people

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Ataxia: impaired ability to coordinate movement; this symptom sometimes suggests a condition within the brain that may be causing headaches.

Aura: a warning sign that a migraine is about to begin; an aura usually occurs about 10 to 30 minutes before the onset of a migraine, although it can occur as early as the night before the onset. The most common auras are visual and include blurred or distorted vision; blind spots; or brightly colored, flashing or moving lights or lines. Other auras may include speech disturbances, motor weakness, or sensory changes. The duration of an aura varies, but it generally lasts less than 20 minutes.

Barbiturate: a type of medication that causes sedation and relaxation; barbiturates may be found in combination abortive headache medications. If used more than two to three times per week, these medications can be habit-forming.

Basilar artery migraine: a migraine that is preceded by symptoms of dizziness, pain at the base of the skull with numbness, confusion, or loss of balance; these symptoms usually occur suddenly and can be associated with vision changes, the inability to speak properly, ringing in the ears, and vomiting. This type of migraine is strongly related to hormonal changes and primarily affects young adult women.

Biofeedback: a method used to help a person learn stress-reduction skills by providing information about muscle tension, heart rate, and other vital signs as the person attempts to relax; it is used to learn total body relaxation and also to gain control over certain bodily functions that cause tension and physical pain.

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Botox injections: the botulinum toxin is a toxin produced by bacteria that causes temporary muscle paralysis; it is commonly used for cosmetic reasons, such as treating wrinkles. Botox has been FDA approved to prevent chronic migraine headache in adults. The agency defines chronic headache as having a migraine headache 15 or more days per month with headaches lasting four hours a day or longer. To treat chronic headache, Botox is given about every three months as multiple injections around the head and neck.

Bruit: (pronounced bru-ee) a noise heard by a health care provider through a stethoscope that may indicate the blockage of blood flow through an artery.

Caffeine: a stimulating ingredient found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola beverages; caffeine is also a common ingredient used in combination medications for relief of headaches.

CAT scan: see computed axial tomography

Chronic: ongoing or occurring over an extended period of time; a chronic headache occurs at least every other day or 15 days per month for at least six months.

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Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS): a condition of incapacitating fatigue; it may be associated with migraines.

Chronic progressive headaches: see Cluster headaches

Chronic nonprogressive headaches: see Tension headaches

Classic migraine: another term for migraine with aura

Cluster headaches: headaches that have a characteristic grouping of attacks; cluster headaches occur one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months. Cluster headaches are the least common type of primary headache. The pain of a cluster headache is generally very intense and severe.

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Common migraine: another term for migraine without aura

Computed axial tomography (CAT) scan: a diagnostic test in which X-rays and computers are used to produce an image of a cross-section of the body; a CT scan of the head may be recommended if you are getting daily or almost daily headaches. It can also be used to rule out other conditions that may contribute to headaches.

Confusional migraine: migraine associated with a temporary period of confusion often initiated by a minor head injury

Cyclic vomiting: uncontrolled vomiting that occurs repeatedly over a certain period of time

Decongestant medications: drugs that can be used to relieve headaches associated with sinus infections; decongestants help relieve headache symptoms, because they constrict blood vessels that cause headache pain. However, decongestants should only be used as directed, as they can be habit-forming.

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Electroencephalogram (EEG): a test in which the electrical signals of the brain are recorded; electrical activity detected by electrodes, or sensors, placed on a person's scalp are transmitted to a machine that records the activity.

Electromyograph (EMG): a test that measures the electrical activity in the muscles to determine the amount of muscle tension; small, flat metal sensors, called electrodes, are attached to the skin (usually on the forehead). The electrodes measure the electrical activity in the muscles directly underneath the electrodes and adjoining muscles. The electrical activity of the muscles will be measured and displayed as numbers or electrical waves on a screen that the person can view.

Encephalitis: inflammation of the brain, usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection; encephalitis is a serious cause of headache.

Endorphins: hormone-like substances produced in the brain that have pain- relieving properties; some scientists believe that people who suffer from severe headaches have lower levels of endorphins than people who generally do not have headaches.

Epilepsy: a group of conditions marked by recurrent seizures over a prolonged period of time (with no identifiable short-term cause)

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Episodic: occurrences that come and go with or without a regular pattern

Food additives: also called food preservatives; these are substances contained in certain foods that can trigger headaches. MSG, nitrates, or phenylethylamine are examples of food additives.

Guided imagery: see mental imagery relaxation

Headache: a general term that refers to a persistent or lasting pain in the head region

Head trauma: a physical injury to the head; head trauma can sometimes lead to headaches.

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Headache diary: a form used to record a person's headache characteristics and triggers; this information will help your health care providers correctly treat your headaches.

Headache history: a description of your headache symptoms and characteristics, as well as a description of previous treatments for headaches

Hemiplegic migraine: temporary paralysis (hemiplegia) or sensory changes on one side of the body; the onset of the headache may be associated with temporary numbness or a stroke-like weakness on one side of the body, dizziness, or vision changes.

Hemorrhage: bleeding within the brain

Hormone headache: a headache syndrome common in women that is often associated with changing estrogen (a hormone) levels that occur during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause

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Hydrocephalus: abnormal build-up of fluid in the brain

Idiopathic: not traceable to a direct cause; occurring spontaneously; of unknown cause

Immune system: the body's defense system or protective network designed to fend off invasion by harmful substances, including bacteria, viruses, and harmful chemicals, and to act as a surveillance system against the development of cancer

Inflammation: a process in which the body's white blood cells and chemicals can protect us from infection and foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses

Lethargy: eExperiencing abnormal drowsiness; being indifferent, apathetic, or sluggish; also characterized by sleeping too much

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Lumbar puncture: also called a spinal tap, it is the removal of spinal fluid (called the cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF) from the spinal canal; the fluid is withdrawn through a needle and examined in a laboratory. This diagnostic procedure is only done to rule out conditions that may be affecting the brain and spinal cord. This test is used only if the symptoms warrant it. It can cause a headache for a few hours afterward.

Lyme disease: a disease, caused by a tick bite, that can affect many organs and joints; Lyme disease can affect the nervous system and cause headache symptoms.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): a diagnostic test that produces very clear images of the human body without the use of X-rays; MRI may be recommended if you are getting daily or almost daily headaches. MRI may also be recommended if a CT scan does not show definitive results. In addition, a MRI scan is used to evaluate certain parts of the brain that are not as easily viewed with CT scans, such as the spine at the level of the neck and the back portion of the brain.

Massage: a type of headache treatment that involves rubbing, pinching, kneading, or otherwise manipulating the body to relieve muscular tension; massage can be helpful in promoting relaxation.

Meningitis: an infection or inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord

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Menstrual migraine: see Hormone headache

Mental imagery relaxation: also called guided imagery, it is a proven form of focused relaxation that helps create harmony between the mind and body; guided imagery coaches you in creating calm, peaceful images in your mind -- a "mental escape."

Migraine: believed to result from abnormal brain activity and involve nerve pathways and chemicals; this in turn affects blood flow in and around the brain. Migraine disorders tend to run in families; however, the pattern of inheritance is complex. A migraine causes mild to severe pain and lasts from four hours up to a week. The frequency of migraines varies from person to person. They can be rare or happen several times a month.

Migraineur: a person who has migraines

Mixed headache syndrome: a combination of migraine and tension headaches

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Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors: a class of drugs used to treat depression; they also help treat headaches. People taking MAO inhibitors must be careful not to eat foods containing tyramine, as this can cause increased blood pressure.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a food additive commonly found in Asian food that may cause headaches in some people

Narcotics: strong prescription pain medications

Nervous system: includes the peripheral nervous system and central nervous system; the peripheral nervous system includes a network of nerves throughout the body, handling everything from regulating the heart rate to flexing the hand or foot. It also receives information, much of which is sent to the brain. This information is analyzed and coordinated by the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the spinal cord and brain.

Neurologist: a medical specialist with advanced training in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the brain, spinal cord, nerves, and muscles

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Neurology: the study of the nervous system

Neuron: a nerve cell

Neurotransmitter: a specialized chemical, produced in nerve cells, that permits the transmission of information between nerve cells

Nitrite: a food additive that may trigger headaches in some people; nitrites are commonly found in processed meats, such as bacon, pepperoni, hot dogs, ham, sausage, luncheon meats, and deli-style meats and other cured or processed meats. Some heart medications contain nitrates.

Ophthalmology evaluation: an eye exam performed by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) which includes a pressure test to rule out glaucoma or pressure on the optic nerve as causes of headaches

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Otitis: ear infection or inflammation

Paroxysmal vertigo: dizziness that is marked by sudden, intense symptoms

Paroxysmal torticollis: sudden contraction of one side of the neck muscles that causes the head to lean to that side

Pharyngitis: inflammation or infection of the throat

Phonophobia: sensitivity to sound

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Preventive medications: drugs used to treat very frequent tension headaches and migraines, or the combination of both types of headaches to reduce both the frequency and severity of the headaches; preventive medications are prescribed to be taken regularly, usually on a daily basis.

Primary headaches: headaches that are not the result of another medical condition; these include migraine, tension, and cluster headaches.

Pseudotumor cerebri: increased pressure within the head (intracranial) caused by buildup of excess fluid around the brain

Raynaud's phenomenon: abnormal sensitivity to cold, which is usually seen in the hands; signs include tingling, discomfort, decreased sensation, or color changes in the hands. This condition may be associated with migraines.

Rebound headaches: headache that occurs from over-using medications for headache pain; exceeding label instructions or your doctor's advice can cause you to "rebound" into another headache. This is especially dangerous when the drug contains caffeine, an ingredient included in many medications to speed up the reaction of the other ingredients.

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Recurrent ophthalmoplegic neuropathy: Pain around the eye, including paralysis in the muscles surrounding the eye; this is an emergency medical condition, as the symptoms can be caused by pressure on the nerves behind the eye. Other symptoms of recurrent ophthalmoplegic neuropathy include a droopy eyelid, dilated pupil, double vision, or other vision changes.

Retinal migraine: temporary, partial, or complete loss of vision in one eye, along with a dull ache behind the eye that may spread to the rest of the head

Secondary headaches: headaches that are the result of another medical condition; these include sinus and allergy-related headaches, as well as headaches that result from a head injury, trauma, or more serious condition, such as a tumor.

Sedative: medication that helps a person rest

Seizures: an abnormal movement or behavior caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain

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Serotonin: a chemical messenger, called a neurotransmitter, which acts on blood vessels and pain control pathways in the brain; some medications which affect serotonin levels are used to prevent headaches. Serotonin is also responsible for controlling mood, attention, sleep, and pain.

Sinuses: air-filled cavities (spaces) located in your forehead, cheekbones, and behind the bridge of your nose; the sinuses produce a thin mucus that drains out of the channels of the nose. When a sinus becomes inflamed -- usually as the result of an allergic reaction a tumor, or an infection -- the inflammation will prevent the outflow of mucus and cause a pain similar to that of a headache.

Sinus headaches: headaches associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose; the pain often occurs with other symptoms, such as nasal drainage, facial swelling, fever, or feeling of "fullness" in the ears.

Sinusitis: inflammation of the sinuses, the air-filled cavities on the face

Spinal tap: see Lumbar puncture

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Status migrainosus: a rare and severe type of migraine that can last 72 hours or longer; the pain and nausea are so intense that people who have this type of attack lasting longer than 72 hours, should be addressed in an urgent care or emergency department. In rare cases, patients may need to be hospitalized for a short period. Certain medications can cause this type of migraine syndrome.

Stress: your reaction to any change that requires you to adjust or respond

Symptomatic relief medications: drugs used to relieve symptoms associated with headaches, including the pain of a headache or the nausea and vomiting associated with migraine; these may include simple analgesics, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, antiemetics, or sedatives.

Temporomandibular joints (TMJ): the joints where the jaw attaches to the skull, just in front of the ears

Tension-type headaches: the most common type of headaches among adults, thought to be caused by tightened muscles in the back of the neck and scalp; tension- type headaches are usually triggered by some type of environmental or internal stress.

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Toxin: a poisonous substance

Transformed migraines: coexisting migraine and tension-type headache; transformed migraines are chronic, daily headaches with a vascular quality

Trauma: a physical injury

Trigeminal nerve: the chief sensory nerve of the face

Trigger: a factor that can set off a migraine in people who are predisposed to migraines; some common triggers include emotional stress, sensitivity to specific chemicals and preservatives in foods, caffeine, changing weather conditions, changes in female hormones, tension, excessive fatigue, skipped meals, or changes in normal sleep patterns.

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Tumor: an abnormal mass of tissue that may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous)

Tyramine: a substance found naturally in some foods, formed from the breakdown of protein as foods age; generally, the longer a high-protein food ages, the greater the tyramine content. Many aged cheeses, red wine, other alcoholic beverages, and some processed meats have been reported to be high in tyramine. Eating foods with tyramine can trigger migraines in some people. People taking MAO inhibitors must be careful not to eat foods containing tyramine, as this can cause increased blood pressure.

Vasoconstriction: a narrowing or closing (constriction) of a blood vessel

Vasodilation: a swelling or opening (dilation) of a blood vessel

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