Advice for migraine sufferers

10 September 2015

One in seven people in the UK have been affected by migraines, the most common nerve-related condition in the developed world.

However, the causes and symptoms are often misunderstood and many migraine sufferers never visit their GP as they think nothing can be done to help them.Migraine article image

Migraine Awareness week (6-12 September) aims to educate people on the symptoms and treatment advice for the condition.

What are migraines?

Migraines are very severe headaches combined with other symptoms. Prior to a migraine attack, sufferers can experience aches and pains for hours, or even days before the migraine sets in.

Some people who suffer from migraines, experience aura symptoms. These are episodes which begin usually an hour or less before the headache. They can often affect vision, causing blind spots or flashing lights. Other symptoms of auras can include pins and needles and numbness in the arms and legs.

The migraine manifests itself as a headache which usually causes a throbbing pain at the front or side of the head. Some sufferers have other symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light. Migraine attacks can last from between four to 72 hours and during the attacks people are often prevented from carrying out usual day-to-day activities. Migraines generally fade away, with sleep often relieving the symptoms. Following a migraine, sufferers can often feel tired and weak.

What causes migraines?

The release of the chemical serotonin into the bloodstream is thought to cause migraines as it triggers changes in the brain. However, there’s still a great deal of debate and research surrounding the cause of migraines.

Migraines are more common in women than men. In the UK, twice as many women as men are affected by migraines. It’s thought that hormones are responsible for the increased amount of migraines in women, with attacks being more frequent around menstruation.

As well as hormonal changes, there are other factors which can trigger migraine attacks:

  • Emotional and physical stress and high blood pressure
  • Environmental factors, such as looking at a computer screen for long periods of time or being in a supermarket with bright lights
  • Migraines can also be brought on by diet and alcohol. Red wine is thought to be a particularly strong trigger for some people

What can be done to treat migraines?

There’s no cure for migraines but it’s possible to relieve symptoms. As migraines affect people in different ways there are a wide range of treatment options. If you suffer from migraines, it might be worth trialling some of the different options available to find a treatment which is most effective for your symptoms. During a migraine attack, the best course of action is to lie in a dark room. Sleeping and eating can also lessen symptoms.

There are various medications which can be used to deal with migraine symptoms. Consult your pharmacist for further advice on choosing pain relief. Over-the-counter remedies can be helpful for people who suffer from the condition and are generally the first treatment used to deal with migraines.

Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, are often used to deal with migraines and anti-nausea tablets can also be used. It’s best to take painkillers as soon as you feel the migraine beginning, as this will allow the medication to enter your bloodstream and be most effective at relieving your symptoms. Once the headache becomes very severe, the painkillers will become less effective. When taking medication, always be careful to not exceed the recommended dosage.

If over the counter options don’t help and you require stronger prescription pain relief, visit your GP who will be able to discuss medication options with you.