What is a migraine?
For most sufferers, migraine is a recuring headache disorder that may significantly impact their quality of life. When a migraine strikes, work, family and social plans may need to go on hold.
The frequency of attacks varies. For some people, attacks may only come once or twice a year, whist other sufferers may experience problems on several days a week.
Types of Migraine
There are two main types of migraine: migraine with aura and migraine without aura.
- Migraine with aura – this affects up to one third of migraine sufferers. The aura usually comes before the headache and is most commonly a visual disturbance of flashing and zig zag lights. Alternatively, an aura may be experienced as feelings of tingling and numbness in the hand, arm or face. Auras usually last between 5-60 minutes.
- Migraine without aura – most sufferers do not experience the aura. For them, the first sign of migraine is usually the onset of the headache.
A few migraine sufferers experience the migraine aura but without any headache, this is known as ‘typical aura without headache’.
For more information on other types of headaches, you can read our headache overview.
Symptoms of migraine headaches
A typical migraine headache will be at least moderately severe, often throbs with the pulse and is made worse by physical activity like climbing stairs. During a migraine, sufferers prefer laying still, preferably in a darkened, quiet room as their eyes become more sensitive to light and their ears to noise. People often lose their appetite during a migraine attack, and nausea is a common symptom, which sometimes progresses to vomiting. After the worse of the attack is over, sufferers often feel ‘washed out’ and it may take a day or so to feel fully back to normal.
Symptoms vary from one person to another, and it is always wise to seek a diagnosis from a health care professional.
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Causes of migraines
We do not fully understand the cause of migraine, though research indicates that many sufferers inherit a tendency to experience attacks. For some sufferers, there are specific triggers which can make a migraine more likely to strike. At times when several of these triggers occur at the same time, an attack is even more likely. Common migraine triggers include:
- Hormonal changes – migraines are more likely to happen around the time of menstruation
- Missing food
- Specific foods and drinks, including alcohol
- Environmental factors such as loud noise, heat or bright/flashing lights
When to seek medical help:
You should call 999 (UK emergency services) for an ambulance if you get a sudden headache that brings about blinding pain, or feeling exceptionally feverish. Other symptoms that require immediate care include paralysis or weakness on one side of your face (may also be affecting the arm or both arms), slurry speech, a stiff neck, double vision, seizures, or a rash.
These symptoms could be a sign of a more serious condition such as stroke or meningitis so is important that you assessed by a doctor as soon as possible if experiencing any of these.
How to treat migraines
Whilst there are no cures for migraines, there are many treatments that can improve the symptoms. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol are more effective if taken early in the attack – once the pain has built to an intense level, or if vomiting has set in, medication becomes less effective. When possible, many sufferers prefer to rest when they experience migraine, and may be able to ‘sleep it off’.
Why Ibuprofen can help
Ibuprofen relieves pain, fever and has anti-inflammatory properties. It works for various types of pain including period pain, strains and sprains, headaches and migraines.
Why Nurofen Migraine Pain can help
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Help prevent the onset of migraines
It helps to keep a migraine diary. Writing down when attacks occur, and possible trigger factors, can help identify patterns and prevent some future attacks.
A healthy lifestyle is recommended, including regular exercise, relaxation, drinking sufficient fluids and regular, well-balanced meals. For some people, reducing alcohol and caffeine may be beneficial.
Other types of headaches
Tension headaches are usually episodic, lasting for part of the day. The headache is usually mild and affects both sides of the head. When treatment is required, analgesics like ibuprofen and paracetamol are often effective.
Medication overuse headache is a type of persistent headache that occurs on most days. It is linked to the frequent use of medications that are used to relieve headaches, including analgesics and triptans. The best treatment for this type of headache is to withdraw from the medications and this should be done under the supervision of a health care professional.
Sinus headaches can occur as a result of inflamed sinuses and the build-up of mucus. This results in a feeling of pressure and pain in cheekbones, forehead and around the eyes.