According to the Migraine Trust, people lose an estimated 25 million days from work and education each year due to migraines. Despite being recognised as one of the most disabling lifetime conditions in the world, there remains a lack of awareness and understanding of migraines.
With migraines affecting over 10 million people in the UK, here are some warning signs to look out for and tips to manage your migraine.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is defined by the NHS as a moderate or severe headache, felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. It’s important to recognise that migraines are often much more debilitating than regular tension headaches and can stop you from being able to function normally.
Migraines can be split into two main categories: migraines with aura and migraines without aura. While migraines with aura can give you warning of an attack, through ways such as seeing flashing lights, migraines without aura can appear unexpectedly with no specific warning signs.
They can typically last anywhere between four hours and three days, and while some people can go years between attacks, others may experience migraines up to several times a week.
Common migraine symptoms
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but typical symptoms associated with a migraine include:
- A throbbing headache on one side of the head (this can also affect your face and neck)
- Feeling of being sick
- Sensitivity to light, sound and smells
You may also develop problems with your sight (e.g. seeing flashing lights), notice increased sweating or experience hot and cold flashes.
What causes a migraine?
It is unknown exactly what causes migraines, but it’s believed to be caused by abnormal brain activity which temporarily affects nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain.
There are possible triggers to look out for that may induce migraines, including stress, lack of sleep, neck or shoulder tension, or low blood sugar. Dietary triggers such as dehydration, alcohol or caffeine can also cause an attack in certain people.
How you can manage a migraine
Migraines can be difficult to prevent, but there are some simple steps you can take to manage your symptoms and reduce the frequency of your attack. If you feel a migraine coming on, here are four tips that can help:
Stay on top of your sleep schedule. Aim for around eight hours of sleep per night, at a regular time each night. You can help your body unwind for the evening by turning off any electronic devices and avoiding screens for an hour before going to bed.
Regular exercise can be a fantastic way to reduce the intensity of migraines, and even help decrease their frequency. Try to exercise at a moderate intensity around three times per week to lower your risk of a migraine.
- Reduce screen time
Spending a lot of time in front of a screen can increase the frequency of migraines, so you should aim to reduce this by taking regular breaks to rest your eyes. A simple way to do this is to set an alarm every 20 minutes and look into the distance for a couple of minutes to give your eyes a break. If you regularly sit in front of a screen at work, you should contact your HR manager who can take steps to support you.
- Identify triggers
Finally, one of the best ways to manage migraines is to identify any triggers that may be causing your attacks. Keep a diary to track your migraines and the symptoms so that you can rule out any possible triggers. It is also a good idea to note down any medications you’re currently taking, as some medicines can increase your risk of migraines. For women, migraines can be linked to the menstrual cycle and are sometimes known as ‘menstrual migraines’, read more about this here.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and it’s having an impact on your life, we can help. We run The Headache Clinic – which comprises several, highly experienced clinicians who are working together to develop a new approach to managing head and neck pain. We offer a patient-centred approach, with individually tailored treatment plans based on your needs.
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