Practical Migraine advice

A severe form of headache, migraines affect around 20% of adults in the UK.

Migraines affect more women than men - around one in four UK women suffer regular migraine attacks. Because of this, hormones are thought to be a potential cause of migraine, although this is not proven.

Some people may suffer migraines two or three times a week, others may only have an attack once every few years.

Common Migraine symptoms

Migraines can be extraordinarily painful. In extreme cases, sufferers may be bed-ridden for several days.

Migraines can be caused by a number of issues, including hormones, stress, anxiety, tiredness, or dietary factors, such as food allergies or dehydration. Chocolate and cheese can often trigger migraines. Bright lights, loud noises and atmospheric stuffiness can also cause migraine.

There are five medical stages of migraine, although not all sufferers will experience these symptoms.

Some people will feel 'prodromal' indicators of a migraine attack. These occur a few days before a migraine and can affect energy levels, mood and behaviour, example prodromal indicators can include: concentration problems, depression, difficulty reading (aphasia), difficulty speaking (aphasia), diarrhoea, fatigue, food cravings,  increased thirst,  irritability, nausea,  photophobia, repetitive yawning, sleep problems and a stiff neck.

Those suffering 'migraine with aura' headaches often experience tell-tale sensations before an attack - such as flashing lights, difficulty focussing and blind spots.

The headache stage itself is characterised by tense, throbbing pain on one side of the head, coupled with sickness and aversion to bright lights. This stage can last up to 72 hours.

The resolution stage sees the pain begin to fade. For some sufferers, this may not start until they have been sick.

A recovery stage can also occur, this may involve feeling exhausted.

Practical Migraine treatments

Migraines cannot be cured, but symptoms can be treated with over the counter medicine.

Paracetamol and aspirin can act to reduce pain, especially if taken early. If you suffer precursors to an attack, it's best to take painkillers as soon as you feel any warning signs. Soluble aspirin can be absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, making this a fast-acting form of treatment.

As well as tablets, special headache sticks are available, which can be applied directly to the forehead to try to reduce tension, as well as pain.

Ibuprofen, and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may also help, as these can reduce muscle aches and swelling in the neck.

Most migraine sufferers find that lying in a dark room, or sleeping, helps mitigate the discomfort of migraine. Being sick, or even managing to eat, can also sometimes help reduce the symptoms.

For women suffering hormonal, or menstrual migraines, ibuprofen is a good choice. Other options are available, such as the contraceptive pill, or oestrogen patches, which help regulate hormones during a period.

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