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Migraine Headaches

What makes a headache a migraine?

A migraine headache is a severe pulsating pain usually, but not always, affecting only one side of the head. The pain interferes with normal daily activities and is often associated with nausea and vomiting, as well as sensitivity to light and sound. Untreated, the headache usually lasts for between 4 and 72 hours.

What is an aura?

Migraine with aura is the official name for a headache preceded by a physical warning. This occurs in 20% of migraine sufferers and warning symptoms can include flashing lights in front of the eyes, tingling and numbness over an area of the body as well as many others. The aura is often but not always followed by a headache.

How common is migraine?

Migraine is a common disorder affecting about 12% of the population at some stage in their lives. After adolescence it is more common in women than men. In women it most commonly occurs between 40 and 45 years but it can occur at any age.

What causes a migraine headache?

The definitive cause is unknown but a number of factors are known to play a role:

  1. Migraine sufferers have more excitable visual and sound systems
  2. The aura is caused by a wave of increased electrical activity that moves across the surface of the brain, followed by a transient loss of electrical activity.
  3. An inflammation of the covering of the brain or blood vessels causes the throbbing pain associated with migraine.

How is a migraine headache treated?

Medication for acute migraine acts to stop headache pain once it has begun. A family of drugs known as triptans are commonly used to treat migraine acutely but several treatment options are available and treatment responses are highly individualised. Medications to treat the associated nausea and vomiting are often also prescribed.

Preventative medications are taken on a daily basis, whether or not headache is present, in order to reduce attack frequency, duration, or severity. Several preventative treatments are available including beta- blockers, and certain antidepressants. The most suitable medication varies between people and should be chosen by the patient in conjunction with their doctor.

Where can I find out more about migraine?

Several informative websites are available including: