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Migraine

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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A migraine is a severe throbbing headache that comes on suddenly and can last a few hours to days. It is a very common health condition that has yet to be entirely understood.

It is described as a throbbing pain that usually affects one side of the head around the temples. The headaches are usually accompanied by other symptoms. This can vary for each person but include things like vomiting, feeling sick, or having a sensitivity to light or sound, eased by lying down in a dark, quiet room.

Migraines can be associated with auras - these are warning signals that the migraine is about to occur. Examples of different auras include flashing lights, numbness, tingling, dizziness, or muscle weakness. It is also possible to have a silent migraine, where there is no headache, but instead just the auras and other migraine symptoms.

What are migraine triggers?

Migraines can be triggered by certain stressors and situations. A symptom diary will help you to identify any triggers that may lead to migraines. This will help you find ways to manage your migraines better. Examples of triggers include: stress, menstruation, dehydration, tiredness, certain foods or drinks such as cheese, chocolate, and alcohol.

How can migraines be treated?

There is no cure for migraines, but they can be managed through a number of ways. Simple painkillers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, are a good place to start. Codeine-based medications are usually best avoided unless prescribed by your doctor.

Triptans are medicines that are used at the first onset of the migraine and work by blocking the pain pathways in the brain. It is also wise to treat your symptoms. Anti-sickness medications can be used separately or together with painkillers, to reduce vomiting or the feeling of being sick (nausea).

When should I see my doctor?

If your migraines are occurring more frequently (more than 5 days a month) or more severely than you would expect, your doctor would want you to discuss it with them. If your migraines are occurring frequently, it might be best for you to try a prevention strategy and trial some medication to help prevent them from occurring.

You should see your doctor if you experience headaches that come on suddenly and are the worst you have ever experienced. If there are any changes such as slurred speech, confusion, weakness, and numbness, or if your headaches occur with fever, nausea, vomiting, or stiff neck and confusion, it would be best to treat this as an emergency and call 911 or go to the emergency department.

How can I prevent migraines?

By identifying your triggers, you will best be able to understand how to avoid your migraine attacks. If your migraines are occurring more frequently, preventative medicines (where you take tablets every day) can be considered. Examples of these medications include topiramate, propranolol, or amitriptyline.

If your migraines are brought about by stress, then finding ways to reduce your stress levels can be important; for example, through relaxation and meditative techniques. If your migraines occur before your period, it would be worthwhile exploring with your doctor hormonal and non-hormonal medicinal options.

Some specialists are trained to give Botulinum toxin type A for chronic migraines. This an injection that paralyzes the muscles, that for reasons unclear, has been helpful in people suffering from migraines. Acupuncture is another non-medicinal treatment that can be useful in the prevention of migraines.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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