What Causes Migraines and How to Stop Them

We all experience headaches from time to time, but some of us also have the unfortunate experience of dealing with migraines. Migraines are a common health condition that can manifest in various forms and impact individuals in different ways. Did you know that migraines affect approximately one out of every five women and one out of every fifteen men in the UK?

It's important to understand that migraines are more than just a regular headache – they can be incredibly unpleasant and debilitating, especially if you experience them frequently.

In this article, we aim to help you better grasp the concept of migraines. We will explore what they are, what causes them, and the various ways you can identify triggers, recognise symptoms, and even discover techniques to alleviate and prevent migraines.

Woman struggling with a migraine

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 different types of migraines that you can experience, so it’s useful to know the differences, and which one you’re experiencing in order to determine the best treatment for you.

Migraines without aura

Migraines without aura are the most common type of migraine.

‘Aura’ is essentially the warning sign of a migraine. Meaning these migraines occur unexpectedly. According to Migraines Trust, these types of migraines usually last between four hours and three days if not treated. The frequency of these attacks varies from person to person, ranging from happening every few years to several times a week.

Migraines with aura

As you may expect, a migraine with aura is when you experience warning signs before a migraine. These are less common, with one in three people who get migraines experiences them.

The warning signs is most is most commonly a symptom that affects your sight. Such as blind spots or seeing flashes. This usually lasts 10 to 20 minutes.

Silent migraines

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. These typically last from a few minutes to an hour.


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 for some people, that’s not enough, so what else can you take for a migraine?

  • Triptans are a group of medications that can help reduce migraine symptoms by reversing the widening of blood vessels that's believed to be part of the migraine process. 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.

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 pharmacist for more information on migraine treatments.

Are you on a repeat prescription to treat your migraines? Register with Hey Pharmacist to order repeat NHS prescriptions online or via the mobile app to collect from your local pharmacy or for home delivery.