Everything you need to know about migraines
In the UK alone, 9 million people suffer with regular migraines resulting in an estimated 25 million work or school days off a year and costing the UK £2.5 billion annually in lost income.
With migraines affecting so many people, it’s only right that for Migraine Awareness Week we help you to understand what migraines are, how they can be prevented, and how they can be treated.
SO, WHAT IS A MIGRAINE?
Knowing whether you have a severe headache or a full blown migraine can be difficult. The most common symptoms of a migraine attack include a throbbing headache, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, vomiting and lethargy. There are a few types of migraine but the most common are ‘with aura’ (visual disturbances) and ‘without aura’. What are the differences though?
‘Without aura’ migraines usually last between 4 and 72 hours if untreated and is often on one side with a pulsating pain which affects normal daily life. This type of migraine can worsen with everyday activities such as walking or climbing stairs.
Migraines ‘with aura’ will carry most, if not all, of the symptoms of a ‘without aura’ migraine but come with additional visual symptoms such as blind spots, coloured spots, sparkles or stars, flashing lights and tunnel vision. Other symptoms can include, numbness or tingling, pins and needles, weakness on one side of the body, dizziness and vertigo.
WHAT CAUSES A MIGRAINE AND CAN YOU PREVENT THEM?
At the moment there is no known clear cause for migraines. However, most people who suffer from them are genetically predisposed and are therefore more susceptible to certain triggers. These triggers can include stress, lack of food, alcohol, caffeine, hormonal changes (in women), lack of sleep and the environment.
Avoiding triggers is easier said than done but certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the occurrence and severity of migraines. Eating well and exercising regularly will help keep you in good health which will help you better cope and recover from attacks. Changes in routine can also act as a trigger, so try to keep consistency throughout the week.
If you suffer with migraines regularly you may find that keeping a diary will help keep track of what is triggering the attacks. Keep notes throughout the day including timings of when you eat, sleep and exercise, as well as what you’re eating and drinking, what the weather is like, medication you’re taking and any lifestyle changes that occur.
When you do have a migraine, jot down its severity and symptoms to allow you to compare attacks and help you work out what your triggers are.
WHAT CAN YOU DO WHEN YOU HAVE ONE?
Resting in a darkened room will help with recovery, especially if you are experiencing sensitivity to light. If you feel sick it’s actually best to try to eat something, it will give your body some fuel to fight of the migraine.
Painkillers and anti-sickness drugs will help but always consult your GP first as they will be able to provide you with the best advice for managing your migraines. Other treatments such as acupuncture, botox and transcranial magnetic stimulation have been found to be beneficial but again, always consult your GP or a specialist first.
HOW CAN YOU GET INVOLVED AND RAISE AWARENESS
- Join the conversation on social media using #letsbeatmigraine and #migraineawarenessweek.
- Share your own experiences with migraines
- Talk to friends and family: Do they know you get migraines? What do they know about it? How can they support you? Do they have migraine too?