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Migraine - what a headache


May 2012

 

migraineIt is easy to think that migraine is just another form of headache, but today it is recognised as a neurological disorder. Migraines are far more common in women than men - one in four women in the UK are affected by migraine at some point in their lives while only one in 12 men suffer from the problem. While migraines often begin with people who are in their twenties, it is possible for migraines to start later on in life.

They manifest themselves as very severe headaches, often felt as a throbbing pain at the front or on one side of the head. Some people feel sick and also become very sensitive to light. For some people the attacks are very rare, for others less fortunate, migraines can happen several times a week and cause serious disruption to their lives.

While not every migraine is the same, five definite stages of a migraine have been identified. These are:

a) the pre headache (prodromal) stage when there can be a change in mood, appetite and energy levels.
b) the aura stage which occurs just before the headache begins and can include flashes of light, difficulty in focusing or seeing things clearly.
c) the headache stage, often requiring the patient to lie down in a darkened room. This stage can last from four to 72 hours.
d) the resolution stage when the migraine starts to fade.
e) the recovery stage when the headache disappears but the sufferer can feel exhausted or very weak.

Some people suffer so badly from migraines that they need to stay in bed for a day or two.

The cause of migraine is thought to be a change in the chemicals of the brain and it has been shown that people suffering from migraines have low levels of serotonin during the occurrence. A drop in the chemical serotonin can make blood vessels in a part of the brain suddenly contract, making them narrower followed by a dilation of the vessels and it is thought that these changes could cause the headache. The causes for natural drops in serotonin are still being researched. It is also thought that changes in the hormonal levels in women have a part to play in migraines.

In sufferers, there are some triggers which have been identified which help bring on migraines, including stress, tension, shock, tiredness, dehydration and irregular meals. Migraines have also been attributed to some types of sleeping pills.

Often people suffering from migraines treat themselves with paracetamol and other over the counter medications, and while these can help alleviate the problem, anyone who suffers from severe or regular migraines should talk to their doctor. The good news is that migraines generally reduce as one ages.

Because migraines are so common, there is a lot of support available including the Migraine Trust which can offer a lot of information and advice: www.migrainetrust.org


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