As Migraine Awareness Week kicks off, we explain the condition and what you need to know to tackle the debilitating pain head on Migraines can have a huge impact on sufferers' lives.
Chances are, you suffer from them or know someone who does. It's a painful, debilitating disorder that is the cause of many sick days around the world. It isn't pulling a sickie or an excuse to shrug off an unwanted cuddle from hubby. "Migraine is not just a headache, it has other symptoms and has a major impact on life," says Dr Mark Weatherall, a consultant neurologist who runs the London Headache Centre. "A migraine headache is usually an intense, throbbing pain on one, or sometimes both, sides of the head. Besides pain, migraine also can cause nausea and vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.Some people may also see spots or flashing lights or have a temporary loss of vision."
Like it or not, your favourite party grubs, cheese and wine can be triggers. But it is often genetic -up to 90 per cent of sufferers have a relative who is also a sufferer. While the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe the migraine prone brain to be much more sensitive to stimuli. Fortunately, a lot is understood about the triggers that cause them. The triggers are usually found in the patient's description of the history and pattern of the headache.
A doctor will ask you to keep a diary of your headaches and make note, for example, of hormone changes, food triggers (typically cheese, red wine and citrus), sleep patterns or stress.
Pain relief: Stop a migraine with over-the-counter pain-relief drugs, or talk to your doctor about trying a class of prescription drugs called triptans.Preventative drugs: Used daily, many of these drugs were designed to treat other health conditions, such as epilepsy and depression and can help a lot.Preventative drugs can reduce the frequency of attacks by approximately 50 per cent and therefore improve the individual's quality of life.
Lifestyle changes: Manage the triggers you can control, such as hunger or stress. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day. Try not to skip meals.Engage in regular physical activity. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake.Alternative treatments: Complementary treatments do help some people and there is some evidence that acupuncture can alleviate the condition.
THE DO'S AND DON'TS
DO Take pain relief as soon as symptoms begin. New research by Nurofen Express and Migraine Action shows that one in five mistakenly believes that their treatment will work better if they wait until the symptoms become unbearable before seeking pain relief. Pain relief works most effectively if taken at the onset of symptoms before the pain escalates.
DO Talk to your doctor to get the right medicine. Different kinds of pain relief work in different ways.Seek treatment.
DON'T Give up.Two of the main reasons that the preventer drugs 'don't work' is that the dose isn't high enough to be therapeutic and the drug isn't taken for long enough. In order to give a drug a fair and realistic trial, experts recommend at least three months as a therapeutic dose.Improvement often occurs on a month by month basis.
DON'T Do it alone. People suffering from chronic migraine often feel isolated and depressed, so it's very important that they get support from family and friends.
Be smart about pain relief. People who use acute pain-relief medicine more than two or three times a week, or more than 10 days out of the month, can set off a cycle called medication-overuse headaches (MOH).
Some people with bad headaches increase their dose of painkillers over time, till they get dependant on them. The first thing to do is to recognise the pattern. Patients are often embarrassed about what they're taking and they get to the point where the medicines stop working and even begin to trigger headaches. But the good news? Patients may be scared about stopping medication, but about a quarter of them will start feeling better within a few weeks.