Migraines - a migraine is a severe headache that usually
affects one side of the head and is often accompanied by other distressing
What is migraine? Migraine is a severe headache, usually on one side,
often accompanied by nausea and vomiting and associated with finding light or
sound painful (photophobia and phonophobia). There are two types:
Migraine with aura (classical) - the headache is preceded by a preliminary phase
called an aura, when symptoms such as seeing flashing lights, temporary visual
loss, speech problems or numbness of the face or arms may occur
Migraine without aura (common) - no aura precedes the headache.
What are the symptoms of migraine? Both types of migraine may frequently
start with changes in mood and feelings of general hunger or particular food
Migraine attacks last from four to 72 hours and are usually felt on one side of
the head. During this time you may need to lie down in a quiet and darkened room
since the throbbing headache is often made worse by movement, noise and light.
What are the causes of migraine? The precise cause of migraine is unclear,
but changes in the size of blood vessels and the levels of neurotransmitter
substances (chemical messengers) in the brain are thought to be responsible.In particular, a drop in the levels of the brain chemical serotonin is believed
to be responsible for the dilatation (widening) of the blood vessels that causes
the throbbing headache.
Many factors can trigger migraines, including tiredness, stress, dehydration,
hormonal changes, missed or delayed meals, and certain food and drinks, such as
cheese, chocolate, coffee, tea and alcohol.
What are the treatments for migraine? Migraine can't be cured but it can
be kept under control, limiting the number of attacks and/or their severity.
Some people find that taking medicines early in the attack reduces the severity
and duration of the attack. Those who suffer regular or frequent migraine may
benefit from specific types of daily medication to prevent attacks occurring.
Not everyone with migraine needs to see a doctor, but if painkillers purchased
from the pharmacist are not helping, attacks are coming more frequently or
there's a change from usual migraine symptoms, you must consult a doctor. In
particular if a woman who is taking the combined contraceptive pill finds
migraines start or worsen, especially if there are focal neurological symptoms
such as visual loss or numbness, she must stop the pill and see her doctor as
she may be at increased risk of having a stroke.
Treatments for migraines include painkillers, possibly combined with anti-sickness medication,
or a group of medication called triptans or 5HT agonists which are not
painkillers but work on changes in the brain chemical serotonin thought to be at
the root of the blood vessel dilatation in migraine. Other drugs are also used
in migraine, such as betablockers, neuromodulators and low dose
anti-depressants. Some people find acupuncture, osteopathy, yoga or relaxation
helps. The use of botulinium toxin injections has now been approved for treating
chronic migraine. How the toxin works isn't fully clear but it's thought to
affect the complex neurological pathways involved in migraine and it can be very
successful, especially where other treatments have failed.
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