Updated 22 February 2016

What is a migraine?

Migraine is the most common type of vascular headache and can be divided into migraine with aura and migraine without aura.

Migraines are severe headaches, experienced as an intense throbbing pain that can last up to 72 hours. Migraine is the most common type of vascular headache and can be divided into migraine with aura and migraine without aura.

About 12% of people get a migraine headache at some stage in their life, which translates to over a billion people worldwide. This percentage has been shown to be constant across all races, cultures and income groups. 

Migraine does not discriminate. Migraine is the 8th most disabling illness in the world, according to the Migraine Research Foundation.

In South Africa, a country of around 50 million people, this equates to about six million “migraineurs”. It is estimated that 25 million working days are lost each year due to migraine. Due to this, many migraineurs fear losing their jobs because of their condition – and for some the fear becomes a reality.

Types of migraine

As the most common type of vascular (from blood vessels) headache, migraine headaches can be divided into two main types:

  • Migraine with aura (previously known as classic migraine)
  • Migraine without aura (previously known as common migraine)

From 20–30% of migraines occur with an aura, which is a collection of symptoms that usually occur 15 to 30 minutes before a migraine headache begins.

Read more: 

Causes of migraines  

Treating migraines  

Symptoms of migraine 

Reviewed by Dr Elliot Shevel, BDS, Dip MFOS, MB, BCh, Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon and Medical Director, The Headache Clinic, Johannesburg and Cape Town, February 2015.


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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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