A migraine is a common health condition and is usually a severe headache felt as a throbbing pain at the front or side of the head (sometimes both!). Most people with migraine headaches feel pain in the temples or behind one eye or ear, although any part of the head can be affected. As well as pain, migraines can also cause nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Some people also see spots or flashing lights which can lead to temporary loss of vision. Migraines can occur at any time of the day, though it often starts in the morning, and the symptoms can last for up to 72 hours. The number of attacks can vary from a couple of times a year up to several times a week and they are more common in women, affecting around 1 in every 5 women but 1 in every 15 men.
There are different types of migraine
- Migraine with aura – Where there are warning signs before the migraine begins, such as seeing flashing lights.
- Migraine without aura – Where the migraine occurs without warning signs
- Migraine aura without headache (silent migraine) – Where an aura or other migraine symptoms are present, but a headache does not develop
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although changes in the chemicals in the blood vessels of the brain are thought to play a part. Migraine attacks can also be associated with certain triggers which include a woman’s period starting, stress, tiredness and certain foods or drinks.
When people come into my pharmacy they often ask me about a cure, but unfortunately there is not one for migraines. However, there are a number of treatments available to help reduce the symptoms and some that can be purchased over the counter.
- Painkillers – Such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
- Triptans – Medication that is prescribed by a doctor which can help reverse the changes in the brain that may cause migraines
- Anti-emetics – Medication often used to reduce nausea and vomiting
A self-help tip that I have heard is that many people find sleeping or lying in a dark room can ease the symptoms. If you ever suspect that you have a specific trigger, such as a certain type of food, then avoiding this trigger may help reduce your risk of experiencing migraines.