We’ve all experienced a bad headache, whether it’s been self-inflicted with one too many drinks at the office Christmas party, or the result of a nasty bout of flu. But when exactly does a bad headache cross over into migraine territory? And when does it become cause to visit the doctor?
Usually, a migraine is defined by an intense headache on one side of the head that prevents you from carrying out normal, day-to-day activities. The headache can be accompanied by other symptoms such as neck pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light. It’s usually recommended that you visit the doctor if you’re suffering from migraine symptoms that cannot be treated with over-the-counter medication, or if you’re having symptoms very frequently.
That much you may already be familiar with – but here’s a list of some migraine facts you may find more surprising.
1 in 5 women suffer from migraines
Migraine is by no means a rare condition, particularly amongst women. It affects one in 15 men and one in five women, normally commencing in early adulthood.
There are a few different types of migraine, but the most common (affecting 70-90% of migraine sufferers) is migraine without aura. Migraine without aura is characterised by a severe, throbbing or pulsating headache. It can be accompanied by sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. In the case of migraine aura, you will suffer some ‘warning’ symptoms before the pain begins; these include mild visual hallucinations, pins and needles, loss of concentration, and dizziness.
Considering that 20% of women suffer from migraines, and that around 190,000 migraine attacks occur in the UK every day, there’s a very good chance you know someone regularly affected by these kinds of unpleasant symptoms.
Migraines are associated with hormonal changes
The leading theory for why migraine is more prevalent in women is that the symptoms are affected by hormonal changes. Half of women who suffer from migraines say that their attacks are directly linked to their menstrual cycle. It’s believed that falling oestrogen levels may be the reason for migraine symptoms, which is why many women with the condition are often affected just before their period.
The menopause can also trigger migraine symptoms in women, although many female migraine sufferers also find that their symptoms improve after their periods have ceased.
A migraine doesn’t always involve a headache
When you think of a migraine, you imagine a terrible headache that knocks you off your feet and makes you want to curl up in the dark with a cool flannel on your head. In most cases, head pain is the signature symptom, but it’s also possible to have a migraine without it. You may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, sensitivity to light and noise, sweating, poor concentration, stomach pain, and feeling very hot and cold – but not be aware that these symptoms are indicative of a migraine simply because you don’t have a headache.
In children, migraine is often characterised by abdominal pain and vomiting, with head pain as a secondary symptom. In the case of cyclical vomiting syndrome, a child may vomit whenever they are triggered by pain, emotional upset or certain smells, returning to full health in between these attacks. CVS is a recognised type of migraine.
Migraine symptoms can last for three days
Migraine severity will differ depending on the person and the circumstances. Usually, however, symptoms will last for at least four hours and as long as three days. After the symptoms have ended, it’s common to feel tired for up to a week afterwards.
In some cases, long-lasting migraine symptoms point to chronic migraine. This variety of the condition is diagnosed when you suffer head pain 15 days of the month, with the pain being migraine-related on at least eight of those days. There are an estimated 610,000 chronic migraine sufferers living in the UK, with a great number unable to work due to the regularity and severity of their symptoms.
Chronic migraine can be treated with Botox
Currently, there is no cure for migraine. However there are a number of treatment options available, which are prescribed depending upon the nature and severity of the condition.
In the case of chronic migraine, Botox injections can be prescribed. It’s not understood precisely how Botox works to relieve the symptoms of chronic migraine, but it’s thought that it relaxes overactive muscles.
If you are not a chronic migraine sufferer, there are a variety of alternative treatments available. Triptans are one of the most common prescription medications for migraine symptoms; other treatments include anti-sickness tablets, acupuncture, and standard over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Other than medication, it’s advised that you work out your particular migraine triggers (which can include stress, jet lag, bright lights and dehydration) and make an effort to avoid them. And remember – a cool, dark and quiet room is a necessity for any migraine sufferer.
Visit the LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor Migraine Clinic for advice, and a free online consultation from one of our clinicians.