News

What are Migraines?

30th November 2017 By Mairead Finlay

For anyone who has ever experienced one, they will most certainly agree that migraines can be both incredibly painful and at times, debilitating. Given the statistics, it seems like it amounts to quite a few of us feeling this way, given that an estimated 6.7 million people in the UK reportedly suffer from the neurological condition.

Here are a few more statistics to digest that show just how much of an impact migraines have on our lives.

  • Migraines remain the most common neurological reason for people visiting A&E, this is often as a last resort, due to being unable to get the help elsewhere.
  • It is the leading cause of neurological disability, and it is ranked as the seventh most disabling disease among all diseases., among diseases such as dementia, quadriplegia and psychosis.
  • Migraines are also the third most common disease in the world, affecting roughly 1 in 7 people globally.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, it is more common than diabetes, asthma and epilepsy combined.
  • About 5% of the average person’s life is the estimated proportion of time one spends with a migraine!
  • About 4% of adults visit the GP each year for migraine problems.
  • The overall cost to the NHS works out at about £150 million a year as a result of GP visits and prescriptions.
  • Overall, the toll of migraines on the UK economy amounts to about £3.4 billion a year, taking into account absenteeism and healthcare costs. This isn’t including any other headache disorders!
  • However, it is also the least publicly funded of all neurological illnesses in comparison with its financial burden and impact on the economy.

Perhaps a few surprising statistics that you didn’t previously know about there! Regardless, it is evident just how much of a damaging effect migraines can have, so, what are the symptoms of this disorder?

 

Symptoms

 

migraines

Migraine attacks can last for up to three days.

The main symptom is usually a moderate or severe throbbing feeling on one side of the head, though it can affect both sides and also your face or neck in some cases. It often gets worse if you move and makes carrying out normal day-to-day activities extremely difficult.

Whilst most tend not to experience other additional symptoms, they do exist. These are:

  • Feeling very hot or cold
  • Poor concentration
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea

You may also experience warning symptoms before a migraine attack

These are known as aura symptoms, and they typically last for up to an hour. About one in three people with migraines will experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty speaking
  • A tingling or numbing sensation.
  • Visual problems, such as seeing flashing lights or blind spots
  • On very rare occasions it can also lead to loss of consciousness

How long do symptoms last?

Generally speaking, migraine symptoms can last anywhere between four hours and three days, with full recovery sometimes taking up to a week due to the severe tiredness caused by a migraine attack.

According to research, more than three-quarters of those who experience migraines have them at least once a month. On average, 190,000 migraine attacks occur each and every day in the UK.

 

Causes

 

migraine-triggers

The exact cause of migraines remains unknown, but there can be triggers associated with them.

 

It remains unclear as to what exactly causes a migraine attack, but it is thought it is to do with a change in brain activity, with abnormalities temporarily affecting nerve signals and blood vessels in the brain. It is thought that they can be passed genetically.

Statistically, migraines are more likely to affect women than men. In fact, migraines affect more than three times as many women as men, mostly affecting those aged between 35-45. Hormones have been attributed to the higher tendency of migraines diagnosed in women.

Nevertheless, whilst exact causes of migraines remain unknown, there are thought to be emotional, dietary, physical, environmental or medication-related triggers such as the following:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness
  • Low blood sugar
  • Poor posture
  • Poor quality of sleep
  • Alcohol
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine
  • Bright lights
  • Smoking
  • The combined contraceptive pill
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

In addition, it could be worth keeping a diary of your symptoms to see if anything triggers the migraine attack, monitoring what has happened over the course of the day when you’ve experienced a migraine.

Diagnosis

One of the problems of diagnosing migraines is related to their unpredictability as they may occur without any other symptoms. However, usually, your GP will try to define a pattern of recurring headaches before making a migraine diagnosis.

In addition, your doctor may carry out a physical examination which may also help to rule out underlying causes leading you to have migraine attacks.  Your GP may decide to check your vision, reflexes and coordination.

You may also be referred to a neurologist if a diagnosis is unclear or you experience chronic migraines (15 days or more in any one month).

 

Treatment

 

medication-for-migraines

You may be given a prescription to help you deal with migraine attacks.

 

Unfortunately, there exists no cure for migraines. However, there are tips and treatments you can try to attempt to alleviate the painful symptoms. Many find using paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin effective, or over-the-counter medicines are helpful, though your GP may give you a prescription if you are finding them ineffective, such as triptans. You may also be prescribed anti-emetics, which are an anti-sickness medication that works well at improving symptoms even if you do not experience vomiting during an attack. It is recommended that you take medication as soon as you start to develop migraine symptoms.

During an attack, it is recommended to sleep or to lay in a darkened room, as bright lights can often worsen symptoms. Others finding eating something useful in improving symptoms.

However, be careful how often you are using painkillers as they can make headaches worse. This is sometimes referred to as a painkiller headache. 

If medication isn’t an option then perhaps you should consider using acupuncture to see if this can effectively control your symptoms. The National Institue for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that up to ten sessions over the course of eight to ten weeks could be useful in managing migraine symptoms.