Migraine is a common condition, affecting around 1 in 7 people
What is a migraine?
Migraine is a common condition which usually begins in early adulthood. It is estimated that 1 in 7 people are affected by migraine and it is a condition which occurs more commonly in women.
Symptoms often include a severe, throbbing headache, accompanied symptoms of nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
Some people may experience some warning signs or an ‘aura’ before the onset of their migraine, for example seeing flashing lights, dark spots, coloured spots or shimmering light. 10-30% of people experience migraine with an aura, and this usually lasts between 5-60 minutes before the onset of a migraine.
The exact cause of migraine is unknown, but it is thought to be a result of temporary changes to chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Some people may find that their migraines are caused by certain triggers such as stress, tiredness, menstruation or by certain foods or drinks.
Managing your symptoms
There is no cure for migraine, but there are treatments and measures you can take to help to reduce your symptoms.
If you suspect something is triggering your migraines, such as stress or food, avoidance of these may reduce your risk of developing migraine. Chocolate, caffeine, cheese and alcohol have all been reported as triggers for migraine.
Regular exercise, establishing a regular sleep pattern, maintaining a healthy diet and staying hydrated may also help to reduce the risk of migraine.
You could try applying an ice pack or heat pack to your forehead or temples to relieve headache symptoms. During an attack, avoiding bright lights and sleeping or lying in a darkened room can help to ease symptoms of migraine.
Simple over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen can also be taken. These are often most effective if taken at the first signs of a migraine attack. Dispersible painkillers are often more effective in migraine as they are absorbed quicker into the bloodstream. Be sure to read the instructions on the packaging when taking over-the-counter medicines and follow dosage recommendations.
Aspirin is not recommended for use in children less than 16 years, and aspirin and ibuprofen should not be used in people with a history of stomach problems, such as stomach ulcers, liver problems or kidney problems. Frequent use of painkillers can sometimes make migraines worse, known as a medication-overuse headache.
If over-the-counter medicines aren’t effective or if you frequently need to take painkillers for your migraine, you should speak to your GP who may recommend stronger painkillers. They may recommend painkillers which contain triptans. Triptans are thought to work by reversing the changes in the brain that may cause migraine headaches.
Your GP may also recommend anti-sickness medication to relieve symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Anti-sickness medicines are more effective if taken at the first sign of migraine symptoms.
Keeping a ‘headache diary’ can help to determine the frequency and severity of migraines as well as any associated symptoms. It can help to identify potential triggers for migraine and keep a track of how often over-the-counter or prescribed medication are taken and if these are effective. Keeping a diary for a minimum of 8 weeks may help your GP to determine the best course of treatment for your migraines and can help to reduce the risks of further attacks due to the identification of certain triggers.
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