what is migraine

If you’ve ever experienced a throbbing, debilitating headache, you may have been experiencing a migraine. But what is migraine, really? At its core, a migraine is more than just an ordinary headache. It’s a complex neurological condition often described as severe and intense pulsing or throbbing, usually on one side of the head. The pain can be so severe that it’s difficult to focus on anything else. A migraine can last for hours or even days and significantly impact your day-to-day life.

What Causes Migraine?

Migraine pain is believed to be caused by activated nerve fibers1 within the wall of brain blood vessels. Migraine attacks can be triggered by several potential factors, including:

  1. Changes in Sleep Patterns: Sleeping too much or too little can trigger a migraine. Studies have shown a connection between poor sleep quality and the frequency of migraine.2
  2. Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in estrogen levels, such as during the menstrual cycle, can trigger migraine for some women. Many men who suffer from migraines have increased levels of the estradiol hormone (a form of estrogen) and lower levels of male hormones, like testosterone.3
  3. Stress and Emotional Factors: High stress, anxiety, or even excitement can lead to a migraine episode.
  4. Environmental Factors: Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, and changes in weather have been known to trigger migraine in some individuals.3
  5. Certain Foods and Drinks: Foods that contain the chemical tyramine, like aged cheeses and processed meats, can trigger a migraine. Alcohol and the additive MSG (monosodium glutamate)4 have also been identified as potential migraine triggers.

Common Symptoms of a Migraine

Migraine comes with a host of symptoms beyond just severe head pain. The symptoms can vary from person to person and from one episode to another. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Auras: These are visual disturbances typically experienced before the onset of a migraine. Auras can include flashing lights, zig-zag lines, or blind spots. They usually last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
  • Sensitivity to Light and Sound: Even the softest light or sound can feel unbearable during a migraine.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: The severe pain can trigger bouts of nausea and vomiting for some migraine sufferers.
  • Dizziness: Migraine can leave some feeling disoriented and confused.
  • Fatigue and Difficulty Concentrating: Enduring a migraine can leave some feeling weak, drained, and exhausted, which makes it hard to focus on anything else.

Strategies for Relief

Because everyone’s migraine experience is different, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. However, there are several strategies that can help alleviate the pain, reduce the frequency of attacks, and prevent migraines from coming on, including tracking your triggers, exercising regularly, eating well and staying hydrated, and prioritizing healthy sleep habits.

You also have the option of preventive medication and treatments. While there are over-the-counter options available, it’s important to consult a health care professional so that they can provide personalized guidance and treatment options.

If you suffer from frequent or severe migraines, you may want to speak to your health care provider about innovative, non-drug options, like gammaCore™ non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator (nVNS). Available with a prescription, this portable, FDA-cleared, handheld device works by blocking the pain signals, thereby relieving and preventing migraine pain without the need for surgery or medications. The best part is that you can administer gammaCore nVNS yourself at home or while on the go. Treatment sessions are quick and easy with two 2-minute stimulations, morning and night, on the same side of the neck. You can use it up to 24 times daily for fast-acting relief, when needed.

To see if gammaCore is right for you, visit our clinic finder to locate a health care provider near you, or contact our dedicated Customer Experience team at 888-903-2673 or customerservice@electrocore.com.


1. Migraine. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved August 9, 2023, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/migraine
2. Lin, Y. K., Lin, G. Y., Lee, J. T., Lee, M. S., Tsai, C. K., Hsu, Y. W., Lin, Y. Z., Tsai, Y. C., & Yang, F. C. (2016). Associations Between Sleep Quality and Migraine Frequency. Medicine (Baltimore), 95(17). https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000003554
3. Friedman, D. I., & De ver Dye, T. (2009). Migraine and the Environment. Headache. https://doi.org/https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2009.01443.x
4. Obayashi, Y., & Nagamura, Y. (2016). Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache? : A systematic review of human studies. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 17(54). https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-016-0639-4