Migraine Lexicon

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Migraine Lexicon

A collection of words, medical terms, and phrases surrounding migraine headaches has been provided. Please note that because of the specific medical definitions for may of these terms, some data has been provided verbatim from its source.

Official Terms Listed By the Migraine Research Foundation

This particular list of terms, and their definitions, is being provided verbatim from the Migraine Research Foundation in order to provide both an easily understood but approved explanation of each term.
  • Abdominal Migraine — A variant or precursor of migraine that mostly affects children and involves moderate to severe abdominal pain and vomiting, with little or no head pain.
  • Abortive Medication — A medication taken at the first sign of a migraine attack to stop the symptoms.
  • Acute Treatment — A migraine therapy used to stop an attack when it begins.
  • Allodynia — Pain due to a stimulus that does not normally provoke pain.
  • Aura — A warning sign that a migraine is about to begin usually involving visual disturbances, such as flashing lights, zigzag lines, blurred vision, along with numbness or trouble speaking.
  • Basilar-type Migraine — A form of migraine occurring primarily in young women that is felt on both sides at the back of the head. Symptoms may include double vision or loss of vision, numbness, dizziness and loss of balance, difficulty speaking, and fainting.
  • Benign Paroxysmal Vertigo — A variant or precursor of migraine that involves recurrent attacks of severe vertigo that resolve spontaneously.
  • Biomarker — objective indications of a medical state that can be observed from outside the patient and can be measured accurately.
  • Cephalgia (cephalalgia) — A medical term for head pain or headache.
  • Cervicogenic Headache — A type of headache caused by referred pain from a source in the upper cervical spine.
  • Chronic Migraine — A form of migraine that occurs 15 or more days a month over a 3-month period.
  • Cluster Headache — A type of primary headache with sudden, severe head pain that occurs in a closely grouped pattern several times a day and at the same time over a period of weeks.
  • Comorbid/Comorbidity — The simultaneous presence of one or more usually independent disorders or diseases in a patient (like migraine and anxiety).
  • Complimentary Treatment — A non-drug therapy used mainly for prevention, such as biofeedback, relaxation techniques, acupuncture, exercise, and lifestyle changes.
  • Cortical Spreading Depression (CSD) — A wave of increased brain activity that slowly spreads from the back toward the front of the brain’s surface and is thought to be the basis for migraine aura.
  • CT Scan — A diagnostic image that uses X-rays and computer technology to produce two-dimensional images of organs, bones, and tissues.
  • Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome — A variant or precursor of migraine that mostly affects children and involves recurrent episodes of intense, unexplained attacks of nausea and vomiting.
  • Diagnosis of Exclusion — A diagnosis reached by a process of elimination, as there is not a test or biomarker to show its presence.
  • Episodic Migraine — A form of migraine that occurs occasionally (less than 15 days per month over a 3-month period).
  • Genome — The genetic material of an organism encoded in DNA or RNA.
  • Genotype — An individual’s collection of genes.
  • Hemicrania Continua — A one-sided headache that is chronic or continuous and responds to indomethacin treatment.
  • Hemiplegic Migraine — A rare form of migraine that causes temporary paralysis on one side of the body often accompanied by vertigo, a stabbing sensation, and problems seeing, speaking, and swallowing.
  • Medication Overuse Headache/Rebound Headache — A type of headache caused by the overuse of pain medications, including over-the-counter drugs. While the medication may help relieve the headaches temporarily, over time the headaches worsen and occur more frequently, creating a vicious cycle of medication use and head pain.
  • Menstrual Migraine — A form of migraine that affects women around the time of their period.
  • Migraine — A type of primary headache that can last up to 3 days with moderate to severe throbbing pain, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and fatigue.
  • Migraine Equivalents/Migraine Variants — Migraines that present with symptoms other than head pain.
  • Migraine with Aura — A migraine that begins with a visual disturbance that appears 10-60 minutes before the head pain.
  • Migraine without Aura — A migraine that begins with the head pain and not a visual disturbance.
  • MRI Scan — A diagnostic image that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create 3D images of the organs and tissues.
  • New Daily Persistent Headache — A type of headache characterized by its quick onset, lack of headache history, and persistence on a daily basis for at least 3 months.
  • Off Label — When a medication is prescribed for a condition that’s not included in the FDA approval.
  • Opioid — A synthetic narcotic resembling the naturally occurring opiate, that acts as a pain reliever.
  • Pathophysiology — The functional changes that accompany a disease or syndrome
  • Phenotype — The observable traits or characteristics of an individual resulting from the expression of genes and environmental influences.
  • Phonophobia — Extreme sensitivity to sound resulting from a migraine.
  • Photophobia — Extreme sensitivity to light resulting from a migraine.
  • Polymorphism — Natural variations in a gene, DNA sequence, or chromosome that have no adverse effects on the individual and occur with high frequency in the general population.
  • Postdrome — The last phase of a migraine, following the head pain.
  • Premonitory Phase / Prodrome — The first phase of a migraine, occurring 1-2 days before the attack.
  • Preventive Treatment — A migraine therapy used to reduce the number of attacks, lessen the intensity of pain, and prevent the onset of future migraines.
  • Primary Headache — A headache that is not caused by another medical condition, like migraine, tension-type headache, and cluster headache.
  • Retinal Migraine (ocular migraine, ophthalmic migraine) — A form of migraine characterized by short attacks of fully reversible lost or impaired vision in one eye.
  • Secondary Headaches — A headache that is caused by an underlying condition or disease, such as headaches resulting from concussions and infections.
  • Status Migrainosus — A severe form of persistent migraine lasting more than 72 hours.
  • Tension-Type Headache — A common primary headache characterized by a squeezing feeling around the forehead. Tension headaches are not migraines.
  • Trigger — Anything that brings on a migraine attack (like weather, a strong odor or light), either alone or in combination with other risk factors.

Other Migraine-Related Medical Terms

  • Acute — An acute migraine treatment refers to a treatment that helps relieve a migraine once the attack has begun. These treatments generally do not affect the frequency of migraines themselves, but are focused on relieving the current migraine symptoms. Other types of treatments may focus on prevention such as prophylactic treatment (see prophylactic treatments).
  • Bruxismnighttime grinding of teeth, sometimes considered a cause and/or trigger for some migraine attacks.

Other Colloquial Migraine Terms

  • Anxiety — many migraine sufferers have anxiety worrying about the next attack.
  • Attack — a migraine headache occurrence.
  • Pain-Free Day — any day without migraine.
  • Sufferer — someone who suffers from a type of migraine condition.
  • Stigma — the feeling that migraine sufferers experience as a result of "misconceptions about the pain, the difficulty of diagnosis, an association with women, who are more likely to have migraines, and misunderstanding that migraine is a disorder".
  • Visual Disturbances — another term for aura.  

Terms for Medications and Treatments for Migraine

This particular list of terms, and their definitions, is being provided verbatim from Migraine Pal in order to provide both an easily understood but approved explanation of each class of medication.
  • Acetaminophen — Also known as Paracetamol depending on the country. Acetaminophen is a pain reliever and fever reducer. The exact mechanism of action is not known. It is one of the most widely available painkillers in the world but there is a lack of strong evidence for its effectiveness with migraine.
  • Analgesics — This medical term describes a type of medicine that is used to relieve pain, also known as painkillers.
  • Anticonvulsants — These are anti-seizure or anti-epilepsy medications. Their mode of action in migraine is not clear. They are thought to affect neurotransmitters (see neurotransmitters) and may also block certain electrical signals in brain cells and nerves.
  • Antidepressants — These are treatments used to improve depression. They can alter your levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that regulates mood which is thought to be involved in the genesis of migraine pain. Antidepressants may be used as a migraine preventative in those who have frequent migraines and depression.
  • Antiemetics — These are anti-nausea or anti-sickness medications.
  • Beta-blockers — are a class of drugs which block the effects of beta-adrenergic substances produced by the body like adrenaline. It is not known exactly how beta blockers help prevent migraine headaches. It is thought that by decreasing the production of these substances, they affect serotonin and/or the dilation or widening of arteries. The most common beta-blocker for migraine is propranolol.
  • Biofeedback — A technique that teaches people how to control certain body functions like blood pressure, heart rate and spasms in the arteries supplying the brain with the help of a sensory device. When the skills are learned they can be practiced anywhere.
  • CGRP — (Calcitonin gene-related peptide). These are known to be closely involved in a migraine attack. During a migraine attack it has been shown that CGRPs are released and bind to receptors in the trigeminal nerve which lead to pain. CGRP treatments are currently being developed as a new generation of migraine treatment designed specifically for migraine with strong results in Phase 2 clinical trials.
  • Ergotamine Compounds — also known as Ergot Alkaloids. Ergots constrict blood vessels like other medications however they tend to cause more constriction in the heart and other parts of the body. Side effects are reported to be more common. As a result these treatments are rarely prescribed as a first option for migraine.
  • Migraine Diary — This is any kind of journal or record that keeps track of an individual’s migraine condition. Migraine diaries are often found to be helpful in discovering new triggers, tracking your progress, evaluating new treatments and informing your doctor.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs — Commonly abbreviated as NSAIDs, the drugs help reduce inflammation by inhibiting production of certain chemicals in the body. Ibuprofen is a common NSAID.
  • Prophylactic treatments — these are preventative treatments designed to be taken regularly regardless of whether you’re having a migraine attack or not. The goal of prophylactic treatments is to reduce the frequency of migraines. Many prophylactic treatments are designed to be taken daily and do not cause rebound headaches or medication overuse headaches when taken as instructed.
  • Serotonin — This is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, emotion, and appetite via the nervous system. It is thought that migraine patients may have imperfect serotonin function which results in blood dilation, inflammation, and consequent pain. Many migraine treatments modify serotonin to help prevent and abort migraine attacks.
  • TENS device — TENs stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. This occurs when a controlled electrical current is used to stimulate nerves in a specific area in an effort to desensitize the region. One of the most recognized TENS brands for migraine is the Cefaly device.
  • Triptans — Are a non medical term used to describe a class of prescription medicine called Serotonin (5-HT1) agonists. Sumatriptan, Zolmitritpan are two examples. This class of medications help relieve pain by narrowing blood vessels in the head and blocking the transmission of pain in sensory nerves. If one triptan isn’t effective another type of triptan can still deliver results.

Speak Your Migraine

  • Novartis and Amgen partnered to fight the stigma around migraine perception and are "using tactics like telling patient stories and trying to change how people use the word migraine." Here are some highlights and takeaways from the 2018 Speak Your Migraine campaign.
  • The campaign launched an online community via Facebook which allowed suffers to discuss the condition.
  • "The campaign only refers to migraine — without the “s” — in an effort to make it seem more 'ever present and not just a series of attacks,' explains Carly Baron, executive director of neuroscience U.S. marketing at Amgen."
  • Real patients shared their experiences in videos on the campaign's website with some stating that it is "insulting to categorize migraine as just a headache" and that "migraine is a reality".
  • A Migraine Impact Tool was created in order to give migraine sufferers a way to gauge how their headaches were impacting not only them, but their loved ones and their employers as well.
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