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Ultimate guide to migraines that cause pain and misery for more people than asthma, diabetes and epilepsy combined

Mirror logo Mirror 5/09/2017 Michele O'Connor

Credits: Getty © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Getty Migraine affects one in seven people – that’s over eight million people in the UK alone – making it more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. 

The World Health Organisation recognises it as one of the most disabling lifetime conditions, yet awareness and understanding is low.

To mark Migraine Awareness Week, check out our ultimate guide...

Is it a migraine?

“Migraines often have other symptoms in addition to head pain,” says Dr Clare Morrison, GP at online doctor and pharmacy, MedExpress ( www.medexpress.co.uk ). 

“These include nausea, pain behind an eye or ear and extra sensitivity to light or sound.”

Around 20-25% of people experience a migraine with aura (visual or sensory disturbances).

Causes

Experts now believe there is a genetic link that could make people more sensitive to migraine attacks, says Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, Director and GP at Your Doctor www.your-doctor.co.uk . There are many triggers which contribute to a migraine.

“Migraine and stress are strongly connected,” he adds. “Anxiety, excitement and any form of tension can lead to a migraine attack.”

Other possible causes are too much caffeine, dehydration, skipping meals or eating high sugary foods.

Treatment

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Aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen) can relieve some of the pain.

For regular migraines that don’t respond to regular painkillers, your doctor may prescribe a triptan, which narrows the blood vessels in the head and also blocks the transmission of pain.

But it’s important to act fast, warns Dr Morrison. “The first 20 minutes are critical in order to prevent a migraine from spreading throughout the entire nervous system.

Alternative solutions

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  • An ice pack works by numbing the pain and cooling the blood passing through the vessels – 77% of people who used cold therapy during a migraine found it to be effective.
  • Acupuncture: “It’s possible that acupuncture helps to stimulate electromagnetic signals in the body to release chemicals that dull pain,” says Dr Morrison. To find a local practitioner, visit British Acupuncture Council: acupuncture.org.uk
  • Feverfew: Clinical studies found that dried Feverfew leaf reduces both the frequency and intensity of migraines,” says Dr Dick Middleton, pharmacist and chair of the British Herbal Medicine Association ( www.bhma.info ). “Feverfew extract does not show the same beneficial effect. It is important to take the dried herb continuously for several months to see maximum benefit.” (Try Natures Aid Migra-Eeze containing 100 mg of dried Feverfew herb - £9.95 for 60 – www.naturesaid.co.uk ).
  • Lavender oil: “A 2012 study showed that people who inhaled lavender oil during a migraine attack for 15 minutes, experienced faster relief than those who inhaled a placebo,” says Dr Morrison.
  • Magnesium – Deficiency of magnesium is linked to headaches and migraines. “Studies show magnesium oxide supplementation helps prevent migraines with aura and may prevent menstrual-related migraines,” says Dr Morrison. (BetterYou Magnesium Oil Spray offers fast absorption through the skin directly into the bloodstream).
  • Botox: “Botulinum toxin is a licensed and FDA approved treatment for chronic migraines,” says Dr Maryam Zamani, Consultant

    Oculoplastic Surgeon and Aesthetic Doctor at the Cadogan Clinic www.cadoganclinic.com . “It works by relaxing overactive muscles preventing the activation of pain networks in the brain,” he explains. “When injected in specific areas on the head and neck, the effects last up to six months.”

  • Fish oil: “Research shows that Omega 3 fatty acids can effectively reduce inflammation in the body, so taking a high quality omega 3 supplement such as UnoCardio 1000 (£33.75 from www.water-for-health.co.uk ) could help to reduce the pain, frequency and severity of migraines,” says Naturopathic Nutritionist Amy Morris. “Indeed, a 2002 study of adolescents who took fish oil found that they had fewer migraines, shorter headaches and less severe migraine headaches.”

Self-help tips

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1. Keep a diary to identify triggers, says Dr John Janssen, consultant neurologist at Re:Cognition Health www.recognitionhealth.com . Record factors including the duration, medications that have and have not worked, severity of headache, menstrual cycle (if applicable), the location and type of pain, symptoms (vomiting, noise / light sensitivity) and the ability to perform tasks e.g. not being able to walk, work, restricted vision etc. 

2. Review key lifestyle factors that may also be playing a part in the onset of a migraine including diet, alcohol, caffeine, dehydration and exercise. “Whilst there are no foods that have been scientifically proven to help cure or prevent migraines, it is advised to avoid the ‘C’ foods: coffee, carbonated drinks, Chianti (alcohol in general), citrus, cheese and chocolate,” explains Dr Janssen. The key thing is to stay hydrated.

3. Review your painkillers: Taking a lot of painkillers can paradoxically end up making the situation worse by causing medication overuse headache so consult your GP. They can check for abnormality of the nervous system, neck tension, blood pressure and eye examination to make sure there is no evidence of raised intracranial pressure. They will be able to review your diary and help with working out a pattern.

4. Eat at regular hours: “Women in particular going through the phases of the menstrual cycle or changes in their lives (pregnancy or menopause), seem to experience a higher recurrence of headaches and migraines. To balance your hormones eat at regular hours, include lots of protein and whole grains, and limit your sugar intake to prevent sugar highs and lows,” suggests Dr Marilyn Glenville, Nutritionist and women’s health expert ( www.marilynglenville.com ). 

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