What is a Migraine?
For many people, the main feature of a migraine is a painful headache. Migraines are a common health condition, affecting one in every five women and one in every fifteen men.
For many people, the main feature of a migraine is a painful headache, sometimes moderate, sometimes severe; which is often felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. Many people also experience additional symptoms such as vomiting, nausea or increased sensitivity to light or sound.
Migraines are a common health condition, affecting one in every five women and one in every fifteen men. Many people also experience additional symptoms such as vomiting, nausea or increased sensitivity to light or sound.
A warning sign that you’re about to have a migraine attack is known as ‘an aura’. Common symptoms are visual problems like tingling sensations and blurred vision; which usually occur up to an hour beforehand.
The three main types are:
- migraine aura without a headache
- migraine with aura
- migraine without aura
Some people only have migraines occasionally, and it is even possible for years to pass between migraine attacks. However, for many sufferers, migraines occur frequently; up to several times a week for some cases.
What causes a Migraine?
Experts still don’t fully understand exactly what causes migraines, although it is thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Recent studies have shown that migraines may result from inflamed brain cells, which make certain nerve fibres over-sensitive and, as a result, interpret normal things as painful.
It is now widely accepted that certain aura symptoms could be caused by a reduction in the brain’s normal electrical activity.
It is also believed that genes may play a role in migraines, as around half of all people who experience them also have a close relative with the condition.
Research has shown that there are certain triggers that are now known to make you more likely to get migraines. Here are some of the most common:
- loud noises
- long-distance travel
- extremes of weather
- periods (menstruation)
- bright or flickering lights
- too much or too little sleep
- a smoky or stuffy atmosphere
- strong smells, including perfume
- changes to mealtimes or missed meals
- stress, or relaxing after a stressful period
- changes in sleep patterns, like shift work
- strenuous exercise if you’re not used to it
- certain food or drink, like cheese, chocolate and alcohol
It obviously may not be possible to avoid these situations or conditions, although most can be treated through some sort of therapy.
How can you treat a migraine?
As there is no cure for migraines it is not possible to stop them completely, although a majority of people find that their migraines get better as they get older. However, treatments are available that can control the symptoms so they don’t impact on people’s lives as much. Some treatments, whether medicinal, changing in lifestyle or alternative therapies, can stop people from getting attacks so often or so severely.
It can sometimes take a while to find the treatment that works best for an individual. It’s important to see your GP regularly during this process to check how you’re doing, whilst also keeping a record of your symptoms and how the different treatments and therapies have worked.
It’s worth noting that migraines can change over time, so even when you’ve settled on a treatment, you should still see your GP or pharmacist at least once a year, whilst also keeping an open mind about what other alternatives are out there that may help. If your migraines get more severe or more frequent, then you need to contact your doctor immediately.
Can migraines be cured?
As outlined previously, there is no cure for migraines; however, there’s a number of treatments that are available to help ease the symptoms. It may take time to work out the best treatment for an individual, and they may need to try several different types of medicines or therapies before finding the most effective solution.
Some options that have proved to be successful are:
- Painkillers: some people find that over the counter painkillers can help reduce the symptoms, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin
- Anti-sickness medicines: known as ‘anti-emetics’, anti-sickness medicines can treat migraines in some people
- Alternative therapies: if medication is unsuitable then other considerations include acupuncture and magnetic therapies, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation.