What Causes Migraines and How to Stop Them

Migraines are a common health condition that can take many forms and affect people in different ways. Here’s what you need to know:

Migraines affect around one in every five women and around one in every 15 men in the UK.

So, the chances are, either you or someone close to you has experienced one. Migraines are more than just a headache; they can be very unpleasant and debilitating, especially if you suffer from them frequently.

We draw on the knowledge of our expert pharmacist to understand what a migraine is and what causes migraines. We’ll also explore ways to recognise your migraine triggers and common migraine symptoms, plus how to stop migraines and what course of action to take should one strike.

What is a migraine?

 

A migraine is a neurological condition that is commonly experienced as an intense throbbing pain that centres on one side of the head.

Migraines can differ in frequency and length – attacks might last from anywhere from four to 72 hours and can therefore have a huge impact on your personal and professional lives.

Types of migraines

 

There are several distinct types of migraine and it’s worth understanding what kind you experience to determine the best treatment. There are three types of migraines – migraines without aura, migraines with aura and silent migraines.

The most common migraines happen without any warning signals; this is known as a migraine without aura. Aura simply refers to the warning signs you get when you’re about to experience a migraine.

A migraine with aura often starts with impaired vision like seeing bright or flashing dots, but can also present as sensory, motor or verbal disturbances such as tinnitus and tingling.

What is a silent migraine?

A migraine without a headache is called a silent migraine and is when aura or other migraine symptoms are experienced but without the pain of a headache. Another name for them is Acephalgic migraines.

What do migraines feel like?

 

Most migraines can be characterised by pulsating head pain, but symptoms differ depending on the type of migraine you are experiencing. They often become worse with physical exercise, lights and sounds. Common migraine symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Heightened sensitivity to light, sound or certain smells

Why do I get migraines and what causes them?

 

Migraines usually begin in early adulthood and, while the exact cause of migraines is unknown, it’s thought that they are the result of abnormal brain activity that temporarily affects a person’s nerve signals, chemical levels and blood vessels.

It is thought that genetics can also play a role in how susceptible you are to migraines, as almost half of all people who experience migraines have a close relative with the condition too.

However, some people find that there are internal and external factors that can trigger a migraine. These might include emotional responses like stress and tiredness or things like smoking, caffeine, certain ingredients, foods and fragrances. In addition, women are more prone to migraines than men and many women find that the likelihood of experiencing a migraine is greatly increased around the time they are due to start their period.

Migraine treatment

 

The good news is that many people find over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, are an effective migraine treatment. But what else can you take for a migraine?

  • Triptans are a group of medications that can help to reverse the changes in the brain that can cause a migraine. They include almotriptan, eletriptan, frovatriptan and more
  • Antiemetics like metoclopramide hydrochloride can be given orally or by injection to reduce migraine symptoms such as nausea and vomiting

Migraine sufferers are advised to eat regular nutritious meals, stay hydrated and ensure that they get enough sleep and exercise. Some people find that lying in a dark room can help to alleviate migraine symptoms too.

Neil says, “if your migraines are very severe and/or frequent (i.e. if you have one on five or more days each month), you’ve tried to avoid any possible triggers and are still experiencing symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor. Not only will they be able to recommend a migraine treatment plan, but they might also prescribe medicine which can help to prevent further attacks.”

How to prevent migraines?

If your migraines are caused by a specific trigger, like bright lights or smoking, then try to avoid these to reduce the likelihood of experiencing a migraine. It can help to keep a diary to try and identify what your triggers are and establish a link between your migraines and your mood, diet, or caffeine and alcohol intake, so that you can avoid triggers in the future.

Doctors can prescribe medications like anti-seizure tablets, antidepressants and beta-blockers like propranolol to prevent migraines. If you are worried about your migraines, then please consult your GP for more information on migraine treatments.

 

We hope this expert guide has helped to answer your questions on what causes migraines, how to stop them and migraine treatments. Find out what our expert pharmacists have to say about other common health conditions like high blood pressure and strokes on our blog.

Register with Hey Pharmacist to order repeat NHS prescriptions online or via the mobile app to get free home delivery.