What is a migraine?
A migraine is a severe throbbing headache, it can last
between 4 - 72 hours and leave the sufferer feeling tired and washed
out. Migraines are quite common and can affect people of all ages. However,
twice as many women suffer from migraines than men. There are 2 main
types of migraine:
- Migraine without aura, also known as common migraine
- Migraine with aura, also known as classic migraine.
In most cases the
aura refers to symptoms that affect the vision. Other symptoms of the
aura stage include disturbances to hearing and senses, confusion and
clumsiness. This stage usually lasts between 4 and 60 minutes. The migraine
with aura affects approximately 15% of sufferers.
What causes a migraine?
The symptoms of a migraine attack are caused by changes
in the blood vessels that surround the brain. However, it is still not
known why this happens.
Approximately 70% of migraine sufferers have a family
history of migraine.
What are the symptoms of a migraine?
A migraine is typically a throbbing pain, usually
on one side of the head which builds up gradually. Other symptoms of
a migraine may include any of the following:-
to light and sounds.
problems e.g. blurred vision, flashing lights or blind spots. This
can be an early symptom of a migraine and is sometimes
called the 'Aura Stage'.
You may also find that movement, light and sound will
make your migraine symptoms worse. Migraine attacks can come on with
little warning. However, some people will experience signs of tiredness,
depression or a craving for sugary foods.
As a headache can be associated with other conditions,
you should seek a doctors advice if you have a severe headache, which
lasts for more than 24 hours and is accompanied with a fever or a severe
stiff neck. You should also contact your doctor if you have any unusual
symptoms or are worried about any symptoms you might have.
How can I prevent getting a migraine?
There are a few things thought to trigger of a migraine
attack, they are known as trigger factors and include the following:-
- Missed meals.
- Foods such as chocolate, cheese, sour cream,
Chinese food and bananas.
- Too much or too little sleep.
- Drinks containing caffeine such as, coffee, tea
- Alcohol, especially red wine.
- The contraceptive pill.
- Travel - high altitudes and jet lag.
- Climate and environmental changes.
changes in women - during
pregnancy, periods or the menopause.
It can be difficult to figure out what triggers your migraine
and it may not be one factor but a combination of factors. However,
a trigger may only account for a small number of your migraine attacks.
These trigger factors can vary from person to person.
How is a migraine diagnosed?
Your doctor will usually make a migraine diagnosis by
talking to you about your symptoms and the progression of them. Your
doctor may also carry out a physical examination.
Your doctor may suggest you keep a diary for 2-3 months
and see if there is any pattern to your migraines. If there is a pattern
this may indicate that a trigger is the cause of your migraine.
How is a migraine treated?
If you feel a migraine is about to
start you should stop all activities, lie in a dark, quiet room and
take paracetamol or aspirin. If you find this treatment is not effective
to relieve your migraine symptoms your doctor can diagnose specific
medications. These medications are most effective when taken at the
start of an attack, especially if you experience sickness during your
If you suffer with migraines once or
twice a week, your doctor may suggest you take prevention medication.
If a trigger is causing your migraine
the best treatment is to avoid the trigger in the future.