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We draw on the expertise of Superintdent pharmacist Neil Stewart as we explore ways to recognise your migraine triggers and what course of action to take should one strike.
More than simply a bad headache, migraines affect around 1 in every 5 women and around 1 in every 15 men in the UK. Chances are, either you suffer from them or someone close to you does. With Migraine Awareness Week coming up (6-12 September), it’s a good time to understand what exactly a migraine is, and how this health condition can be managed and treated.
A migraine can commonly be experienced as a throbbing pain that centres on one side of the head, Neil explains.
There are several distinct types and it’s worth understanding what kind you experience in order to determine the best treatment. The most common type happens without any warnings signals. This is known as a migraine without aura, whereas a migraine with aura often starts with signals – these are most commonly impaired vison but can also present themselves as sensory, motor or verbal disturbances.
The third type is a silent migraine, that features aura or other symptoms but without the pain of a headache. Other symptoms associated with all kinds of migraine can include nausea, vomiting and heightened sensitivity to light, sound or certain smells.
Whatever kind of migraine you suffer from, they can differ in frequency and length – attacks might last from around four to 72 hours and can therefore have a huge impact on your personal and professional lives.
Migraines usually begin in early adulthood and, while their exact cause is unknown, it’s thought they are the result of abnormal brain activity that temporarily affects a person’s nerve signals, chemical levels and blood vessels.
However, some people find that there are internal and external factors that can trigger a migraine – these might be emotional responses like stress and tiredness or certain ingredients and fragrances. In addition, some women find the likelihood of their experiencing a migraine is increased around the time they are due to start their period. It can help to keep a diary to try identify a link between your migraines and your mood, diet or caffeine and alcohol intake, so that you can avoid these triggers in the future.
The good news is that many people find over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, can effectively treat a migraine. Other medicines include:
If your migraines are very severe and/or frequent (you have one on five or more days each month), you’ve tried to avoid possible triggers and are still experiencing symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor. Not only will they be able to recommend a treatment plan, they might prescribe medicine, which can help prevent further attacks.