If you are one of the 8 million people in the UK who suffer from migraines you will know only too well how scary and debilitating they can be. Blurred vision, vomiting, sensitivity to light, noises and even smells: these are just some of the symptoms experienced.
In fact, polls have found migraines to be considered among the top 20 causes of disability worldwide, accounting for 25 million days of missed work or school by individuals who are afflicted by this ailment. And yet according to the Migraine Trust – a UK base charity – a worrying 50% of sufferers do not seek help for their problem.
The 7th September sees the start of Migraine Awareness Week, where organisations such as The Migraine Trust will be encouraging individuals to seek help rather than suffer in silence. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what a migraine is . . . and what can be done to treat one.
What exactly is a migraine?
A migraine is usually an intense, throbbing pain which can be felt on one or even sometimes both sides of the head. Most people who suffer from migraine headaches feel the pain in the temples or behind one eye or ear, although any part of the head can be involved.
What are the symptoms and triggers?
Symptoms include severe pain, drug reactions or side effects from headache medications, severe nausea or vomiting, dehydration, and/or stroke-like neurological symptoms that might accompany the headache as well as sensitivity to light, smells or sounds.
One in five people who get migraines experience sensory symptoms about 10 to 30 minutes before an attack – this is known as an aura. These symptoms include seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots, numbness or tingling in the face or hands, disturbances to the senses or feeling mentally “hazy”.
The exact cause of a migraine is still not fully understood but there are several triggers that are often mentioned which could activate these migraines. These include:
- Lack of or too much sleep
- Not eating enough
- Bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells
- Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle
- Stress and anxiety
- Environmental/weather changes
- Caffeine (too much or withdrawal)
- Overexertion of the body
Quick facts about migraines:
- Migraines often affect people most severely between the ages of 15 and 55.
- Most sufferers have a family history of migraine or of disabling headaches.
- Migraines are more common in women.
- Research often shows that prior to puberty, boys tend to suffer more often from migraines than girls but as adolescence begins migraine headaches increase more rapidly with girls than boys.
- Compared to 18% of women, migraine headaches affect only about 6% of men. This may because more severe and more frequent migraine attacks often occur in women as a result from fluctuations in estrogen levels.
- Middle-aged men who suffer from migraine headaches are 42% more likely to have a heart attack when compared with non-sufferers.
- Migraines often become less severe and less frequent with age.
How do you prevent or ease a migraine?
A good way to reduce migraine attacks is to find out what triggers your attacks and manage exposure to these triggers. This can often require changes to diet or lifestyle, including:
- Eating regularly and avoiding skipped meals
- Regular exercise
- Maintaining a healthy diet which is high in Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B
- Introducing cayenne, vitamin b complex and turmeric to your diet
- Quit smoking
- Staying well hydrated
- Avoiding pre-packaged foods
- Increasing your magnesium levels which has been shown to significantly decrease the amount of migraine headaches.
- Balancing your hormones, specifically the ratio between estrogen and progesterone
- Finding a way to reduce your stress levels
- Massage therapy
- Staying away from bright lights
Completely curing a migraine sufferer is still beyond science, currently. But there are ways in which those prone to migraines can relieve pain and tackle the affliction through medication.
The key, of course, is to seek medical attention from a health professional rather than struggling with migraines on your own. Consulting your pharmacist is an easy way to access advice on medications, and at Express Pharmacy we are able to even prescribe the appropriate pills and nasal sprays online if you are unable to get to one of our bricks and mortar pharmacies.