Each September we use this week to raise general awareness of migraine as a serious public health issue and to reduce stigma. While there is an increasing awareness of migraine and understanding of what it is, not many would disagree that we are nowhere near the level of awareness and understanding that we need to reach. And we do need to reach it because lack of awareness and understanding of migraine seriously impacts our lives, with too many people not fully realising what it is like to live with this condition.
A migraine is usually known as a throbbing pain on 1 side of the head. The pain is normally moderate but can become extremely severe. More severe symptoms of a migraine can include feeling nauseous and feeling extra sensitive to any bright light or sound.
There are many different types of migraines, these include:
- migraine with aura – where there are specific warning signs just before the migraine begins, such as seeing flashing lights.
- migraine without aura – the most common type, where the migraine happens without the specific warning signs.
- migraine aura without headache, also known as silent migraine – where an aura or other migraine symptoms are experienced, but a headache does not develop.
Migraine is a common health condition, affecting around 1 in every 5 women and around 1 in every 15 men. Many people have migraines frequently, although it is possible for years to pass between the attacks.
When experiencing a migraine, the most common symptom is an intense throbbing on one side of the head. This throbbing sensation can become more severe the more you move your body, this results in you not being able to carry out day-to-day tasks.
Other symptoms commonly associated with migraines include:
- feeling sick
- being sick
- increased sensitivity to light and sound, (which is why many people with a migraine want to rest in a quiet, dark room)
Some people also occasionally experience other symptoms, including:
- poor concentration
- feeling very hot or very cold
- tummy (abdominal) pain
Symptoms of migraine
About 1 in 3 people with migraines have temporary warning symptoms, known as aura, before a migraine. These may include:
- visual problems – such as seeing flashing lights, zig-zag patterns or blind spots
- numbness or a tingling sensation like pins and needles – which usually starts in 1 hand and moves up your arm before affecting your face, lips and tongue
- feeling dizzy or off-balance
- difficulty speaking
- loss of consciousness – although this is unusual
The exact cause of a migraine is unknown, but they’re thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.
Relieving a migraine and prevention
There are several ways you can reduce your chances of experiencing migraines. A great way to do this is by identifying and avoiding possible triggers.
You may find you tend to have a migraine after eating certain foods or when you’re stressed, and by avoiding this trigger you can prevent a migraine. It can also sometimes be difficult to tell if something is a trigger or if what you’re experiencing is an early symptom of a migraine attack.
Find out more about possible migraine triggers here.
There are many medicines available to help prevent migraines. Some of the main medicines used to prevent migraines are outlined below:
- Botulinum toxin type A
You can ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice on which medicine is best suited to your condition.
There’s currently no cure for migraines, although a number of treatments are available to help ease the symptoms.
Many people who have migraines find that over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen, can help to reduce their symptoms. They tend to be most effective if taken at the first signs of a migraine attack, as this gives them time to absorb into your bloodstream and ease your symptoms.
It’s not advisable to wait until the headache worsens before taking painkillers, as it’s often too late for the medicine to work.