Emergency Care Institute Patient Fact Sheet

Published: July 2022. Printed on 18 Jun 2024


This fact sheet is for people who have presented to the emergency department with this condition.

This fact sheet provides general information. If you have specific concerns, speak to your healthcare professional for further information and advice.

What is a migraine?

Migraine is a condition that causes attacks or episodes of headaches. These are usually on one side or the front of your head. They can last from four to 72 hours.

Your doctor or neurologist will diagnose your migraine. They will also discuss options with you if you need further investigation. There are other types of migraine that are rare or not common. Those types of migraine are beyond the scope of this fact sheet.


Generally, along with the headache there are other symptoms such as:

  • feeling sick (nausea) or being sick (vomiting)
  • sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises (you may want to lie in a dark room)
  • not wanting food
  • blurred vision, changes in vision – usually one-sided shimmering bright lights or temporary loss of part of your vision
  • problems with your speech or poor concentration
  • tummy (abdominal) pain with or without diarrhoea
  • pins and needles, numbness, scalp tenderness or sensations of heat or cold.

Note: always go to an emergency department if you have a problem with your speech or changes in your vision or sensation. This is to make sure your symptoms are not caused by something more serious.


The cause of migraines is not understood. Treatment options include avoiding possible triggers that arise from:

  • your diet
  • the environment – certain smells, smoke, noise
  • psychological factors – depression, stress, tiredness
  • medicines – hormone replacement or contraceptive pill
  • other things such as menstruation, shift work and menopause.

You will decide the medications for your migraines with your doctor. Medications will depend on the triggers and your level of pain and distress. Treatments to avoid migraines also exist. Please talk to your GP or neurologist about medication that will help you.

Home care

As already mentioned, some people find that their migraines are triggered by certain things. If you can avoid these things, you can lower your chances of getting migraines. You can also keep a ‘headache diary’. In the diary, write down every time you have a migraine and what you ate and did before it started. The diary will help you to see if there is anything you should avoid eating or doing. You can also write down the medicine you took and whether it helped.

Common migraine triggers include:

  • stress
  • hormonal changes
  • skipping meals or not eating enough
  • changes in the weather
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • bright or flashing lights
  • drinking alcohol
  • certain drinks or foods, such as red wine, caffeine, aged cheese and hot dogs.

Aim to:

  • Avoid trigger foods you identify in your headache diary.
  • Develop good sleep habits. Stick to a schedule to go to sleep and wake up, even on the weekends.
  • Take medicine exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Overuse of some medications can make migraines worse or cause toxic side effects.
  • Reduce stress in your life. Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or biofeedback. Your doctor can help you learn more about these options.

What to expect

Return to the emergency department if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • slurring of your speech or weakness
  • a worsening or concerning change in your normal headache pattern – talk to your GP first if you are not sure about this symptom
  • seizures.

Seeking help

In a medical emergency call an ambulance – dial triple zero (000). If you have any concerns, see your local doctor or healthcare professional. If this is not possible, return to the emergency department or urgent care centre.

For more information

Ask your local doctor or healthcare professional. You can also call healthdirect 24 hours a day on 1800 022 222 or visit healthdirect.gov.au.

Evidence informedBased on rapid evidence check of grey literature, and where there is no research, based on clinical expert consensus.
CollaborationDeveloped in collaboration with the Agency for Clinical Innovation Emergency Care Institute members. 
Currency Due for review: July 2027.
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