Managing Migraines

migraines

According to the Migraine Trust, there are 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK, it affects 1 in 7 people, and is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. Migraine is classified as a disabling illness and is the top neurological reason for going to A&E.

“A migraine is not simply a bad headache. A migraine is an intense headache that may be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea (feeling sick), vomiting (being sick), visual problems and an increased sensitivity to light or sound.”

brainandspine.org

There are physical and emotional triggers for a migraine. Whilst there isn’t an exact cause for it, it has been seen that most people with it are genetically predisposed to it and that there are certain triggers for it including stress, hunger, alcohol, hormonal changes, lack of sleep and environmental triggers. 

The two main types of migraine include migraine without aura (sometimes called common migraine) and migraine with aura (sometimes called classical migraine). There are other types of migraine too, which you can read more about here.

“Migraine is an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger.”

Professor Peter Goadsby, Professor of Neurology, King’s College London

What is it like having a migraine?

For me, getting a migraine starts with losing my peripheral vision. Usually, if I can drink some water and take a paracetamol when this happens I can sometimes ‘nip it in the bud’ and it’ll be a light headache afterwards. However, if a migraine sets in I have to get home as quickly as possible, lie down in a dark room and sleep it off. 

If I don’t manage either of these two things then I lose coherence in my speech, I lose feeling down one side of my body like a stroke, I get a pulsating headache that hurts when I move or when I’m exposed to any kind of light. I’m unable to use my phone or to read anything as I get spots in my vision where large areas of the screen or page is missing. Sometimes it can lead to me being dizzy, unstable on my feet and can result in me being sick. 

The symptoms will vary from person to person and individuals may have different symptoms during different attacks. Your attacks may differ in length and frequency. Migraine attacks usually last from 4 to 72 hours. Due to this, migraine can have an enormous impact on your work, family and social life.

“Although migraines are not life-threatening and do not shorten people’s life expectancies, they can significantly damage the quality of people’s lives. A World Health Organisation study identified migraine as the sixth highest cause worldwide of ‘years lost due to disability’.

brainandspine.org.uk
  • Migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world.
  • 12% of the population – including children – suffers from migraine.
  • Migraine is most common between the ages of 18 and 44.
  • More than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine.
  • 85% of chronic migraine sufferers are women.
  • Roughly 1 in 4 women will experience migraine in their lives.
  • Three times as many women as men suffer from migraine in adulthood.
  • More than half of all migraine sufferers are never diagnosed.

Migraine Research Foundation Organisation

How does migraine affect women?

Sex differences in migraine prevalence have been recognised for centuries, but researchers are still just beginning to understand the factors that put women at greater risk. 

It’s been proven that women are three times as likely as men to experience migraines. This is mainly due to hormonal factors where women experience a migraine around their menstrual cycle. Some women find that the pill can trigger migraines and some women have reported migraines ramping up as they approach menopause or are on HRT.

“More than half of migraines in women occur right before or around the time of their period. Before you start your period your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop. Estrogen controls your pain sensations and the drop could be linked to menstrual migraines.”

The Office on Women’s Health

What help can you get with migraine?

According to NHS England ‘Headache and migraine sufferers will benefit from better diagnosis and care as part of the NHS Long Term Plan to improve local health services, avoiding up to 16,500 emergency hospital admissions every year.’ 

There is no cure for migraine. However, there are lots of treatments available to help ease the symptoms of a migraine attack including paracetamol, aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Interestingly, the only time I was migraine free for a long period of time, was whilst I was pregnant!

What might help getting the right treatment from your GP would be to keep a migraine diary. This way you can identify any potential triggers, document whether certain treatments have been successful or not and track how often you are getting migraine attacks over the year. 

NHS Migraine Information

Nature.com

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