Pulsing. Intense throbbing. Nagging pain. Not to mention common sides of nausea and vomiting. Migraine headaches are no picnic in the park. These severe head pounders tend to come on subtly, a  dull achy pain first creeping up on one side of the head, on the forehead, or in the area surrounding the eyes. Slowly, the monsters, three times more common in women than men,  grow in severity. Lasting anywhere from four hours to three whole days, these headaches are not only frustrating, they can be downright debilitating.

You may be surprised by just how common migraines are. In 2011, these pesky head bangers sent more than 3 million Americans shuttling to hospital emergency rooms reports the Agency for Heathcare Research and Quality. Among them, some 81,000 were admitted for overnight care.

The good news is that if you’ve made it to age 40 without experiencing a migraine headache, you’re likely in the clear. Though it is possible for migraines to begin striking at any age, they often surface during adolescence or in the late teens and early twenties. You’re also less likely to get migraines if neither of your parents was ever steamrolled by one. Some 90 percent of migraine sufferers report a family history.

One third of those who have migraines experience a type of sensory warning first. This signal, which is referred to as an aura, occurs before the actual headache. Like the migraine, auras begin faintly and gradually worsen. Auras include seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or spots, and even blurry or temporarily lost vision and last up to 30 minutes.

It is rare to have one solitary migraine. Instead, the headaches tend to recur when triggered by certain factors. If you are concerned that you may have migraines, track your symptoms and how long they last in a journal and share this with your doctor.

When keeping a headache diary, record the events surrounding the attack. Such notes  may  help you and your doctor to pinpoint possible triggers (such as lack of food or sleep, anxiety, stress, or diet). Sun glare, bright lights or loud sounds can also spur a migraine, as can, in women, hormonal changes related to menstruation. Researchers currently suspect that migraines have a genetic cause.

Address suspicions of migraine early. Evidence shows that these headaches can get progressively  worse with each attack. Left unattended,  some people with migraines could eventually suffer daily.