What is a Migraine?
Migraine is a very common and debilitating condition but unfortunately it is often not diagnosed correctly. It may affect up to 15% of women and 10% of men at some stage in their lives. Some people may experience disturbances in vision, numbness or even weakness in association with an attack – this is the migraine aura.
The headache is typically throbbing and worse on one side of the head. During an attack sensitivity to sound, light or smell may be experienced along with neck pain, nausea or even vomiting. Migraines typically last from hours to days and normal life may grind to a halt during one.
It tends to run in families and may be triggered by hunger, changes in the weather, disturbances in one’s normal sleep pattern or hormonal fluctuations (e.g. during the menstrual cycle). Often however it is not clear why attacks occur.
Do I have migraine?
Migraine headaches can have some of the following characteristics:
- Usually throbbing in nature and affect one side of the head
- Typically interfere with you being able to get on with your normal activities
- Experience sensitivity to sound, light or smell during an attack
- May feel sick or even vomit during one
- Given the choice people would like to lie down and sleep when they have one
If you have headaches with some of the above features you may suffer from migraine. Migraine may be responsible for up to 100,000 people missing work or school each day in the U.K. It is a serious problem but effective treatments are available
The treatment of migraine firstly depends on making the correct diagnosis and ideally this should be done by a neurologist with specialist training in headache.
Once a diagnosis of migraine is made then the first stage often involves the use of anti-inflammatory pain killers, or a group of drugs called the triptans. An alternative to medication however is a hand-held magnet (Spring TMS device). This device delivers a magnetic pulse to the back of the head to abort an attack and can be used in those who cannot tolerate, or would prefer not to take tablets.
If migraines are frequent then treatment aimed at preventing them from occurring may be appropriate. A wide variety of drugs are available to prevent migraine. While all were initially developed for treating other conditions (such as the tricyclics, beta-blockers and certain anti-epileptics) they are generally effective at preventing migraine. These medications however must be taken every day if they are to be effective – even if you do not have a headache. They may also need to be taken for several months before an effect is seen.