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Home / Migraine

Migraine

Causes, Symptoms and Treatments for Moderate to Severe Headaches

Migraines are a severe form of headache that can cause nausea, vomiting and light sensitivity. According to the NHS, they affect 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men. To combat migraines, you might need stronger than the usual painkillers. If this is the case, and due to the symptoms, you may wish to order medication online.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a common ailment that presents as a moderate or severe headache.

Individuals with migraines usually experience a throbbing pain or pulsing feeling on one side of their head. This usually lasts anywhere from 4-72 hours. Migraine headaches often come with other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. You may also experience extreme sensitivity to light or sound.

The severity and frequency of a migraine depends on the individual. Some people have migraines several times a week, others have migraine attacks once every few years.

There are many types of migraine, the first is known as a migraine with aura. This occurs when you get warning signs before the migraine begins. These could be flashes of light, tingling on one part of your face or in the arm or leg, or blind spots in your vision.

However, the most common type of migraine is a migraine without aura. There are no specific warning signs for this, but you experience the throbbing headache and other symptoms associated with migraines.

Some people experience a third type of migraine, known as migraine aura without headache. This is also referred to as a 'silent migraine'. This occurs when you experience the aura and other migraine symptoms, but no headache develops.

Migraines are a very common health condition but are much more likely to affect women, with one in five women in the UK experiencing them.

People tend to get migraines in early adulthood and they peak around the age of 30. After that, they tend to become less frequent and less severe.

Migraine attacks can seriously affect quality of life. It is not uncommon for individuals with migraines to have to stay in bed for days until the headache subsides. It can also prevent individuals from carrying out their usual daily activities.

While there is no cure for migraines, there are several treatments available. These are usually intended to reduce symptoms and prevent further attacks. Some of these treatments can be very effective.

What causes a migraine?

The exact cause of a migraine is unknown. However, migraines are thought to occur due to changes within the brain.

When the brainstem is affected by changes, it can interact with the trigeminal nerve in a negative way. This nerve is a major pain pathway, so could be responsible for migraine headaches.

Many suspect that an imbalance in brain chemicals might cause migraines. This includes the chemical serotonin, which regulates pain in the nervous system.

Studies show that serotonin levels drop suddenly during migraine attacks. This sometimes causes the trigeminal to release neuropeptides. These travel to the outer cover of the brain, known as the meninges, and cause migraine pain.

The neuropeptide known as calcitonin gen-related peptide (CGRP) is thought to be a contributing factor in the onset of migraines.

Genetics may also influence migraines. Around half of the individuals with the condition have a close relative who experiences migraine attacks.

There is also a number of triggers believed to cause migraines.

Fluctuations in oestrogen is a common one. Because oestrogen levels drop when women start their period, this is a time when they're very likely to experience a migraine.

Pregnancy and menopause can also trigger migraines. Some hormonal medications, such as the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy (HRT), may make migraines worse. However, some women find the opposite is true and they have fewer migraines while on these medications.

Stress and fatigue are common triggers associated with migraines. Shifts in sleep pattern such as missed sleep, too much sleep, or having jet lag may make migraines worse, as can intense physical exertion.

Some believe that certain food and drinks can cause migraines. If you experience migraines, it's best to avoid aged cheeses and salty or processed foods. Skipping meals or fasting could also contribute to attacks and so should be avoided.

Individuals who experience migraines should also try to limit their intake of additives such as aspartame and monosodium glutamate. Wine and other forms of alcohol are further known triggers for migraines, as are caffeinated drinks.

In some cases, sensory stimuli and environmental changes can trigger migraines. Bright lights, sun glare, noise and strong smells can all impact the severity of the migraine. Shifts in the weather or barometric pressure can have a similar effect.

What are the symptoms of a migraine?

Most people start getting migraines during childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.

Usually, a migraine will progress through these four stages. However, you may not experience all of them:

  • Prodrome
  • Aura
  • Headache or attack
  • Postdrome

Each of these stages has a myriad of symptoms that you should be aware of. Being able to recognise which stage you're at may help your treatment.

You are usually in the prodrome stage a couple of days before the migraine begins. At this time, your body goes through many subtle changes that may suggest a migraine is coming.

These include constipation, mood swings (from depression to euphoria) and certain food cravings. You may also experience neck stiffness, an increased need to drink and urinate, as well as frequent yawning.

We then move on to the aura stage. This usually occurs just before the migraine begins but can persist through the headache phase.

The presentation of the aura is caused by the nervous system. It usually disturbs your vision, senses, movement or speech. Your muscles may become weak or you may feel like someone's touching you.

These symptoms tend to build gradually and last from 20-60 minutes.

Visual symptoms might include:

  • Seeing flashes of light, various shapes and bright spots
  • Vision loss

Sensory/touch-related symptoms could include:

  • Pins and needles in the arm or leg
  • Weakness or numbness in the face, or on one side of the body – this is known as a hemiplegic migraine

Issues with movement can include uncontrollable jerking, while others may have trouble speaking or hear noises or music that aren't there.

Next, is the headache or 'attack' part of the migraine. Individuals at this stage may experience pain on one or both sides of the head.

The pain is often throbbing or pulsing in nature, which contributes to other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Many people with migraines are extremely sensitive to light and sound but can also be affected by strong smells and touch.

Individuals may also experience blurred vision and light-headedness, which can be followed by fainting.

The final phase, postdrome, occurs after the attack has ended. Many feel drained and washed out at this stage, however others feel elated.

For the next 24 hours, you may experience confusion, weakness and dizziness accompanied by extreme moodiness and an increased sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraines can cause several complications, especially if you have 'chronic migraines' that last for 15 or more days and recur at least once every month for three months or more. You may also experience complications if you have 'status migrainosous'; severe attacks that last for over three days.

These complications include, but are not limited to:

  • Migrainous infarction – Aura that lasts longer than an hour and suggests loss of blood supply to the area, this should be treated immediately
  • Persistent aura without infarction – Aura that lasts for more than a week after the migraine. This has similar symptoms to a stroke.

Trying to control migraine pain can cause symptoms of its own. Taking NSAID painkillers (such as ibuprofen) can cause abdominal pain, bleeding and ulcers if taken in large doses or for extended periods.

Some people experience medication overuse headaches. This occurs when medication is taken so frequently it no longer relieves pain and starts causing it. This often means that the person with the condition takes more painkillers and the cycle continues.

Serotonin syndrome is a very rare but serious condition associated with migraines. Many of the medications used to treat this condition naturally raise serotonin levels. If you take two or more of these medications your serotonin levels can become too high causing changes in cognition, behaviour and muscle control. If this occurs, you should seek medical attention immediately.

How to treat a migraine

There is no cure for migraines, but there are several effective treatments that reduce the symptoms and prevent more from occurring.

You should start by avoiding any known triggers and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Exercise regularly and keep a consistent routine where you eat and sleep at the same times each day and stay hydrated.

If you have a migraine attack, sleeping or simply lying in a darkened room can be effective.

It can also be helpful to keep a record of your attacks and how you treated them. This will enable you to identify triggers and work out which treatments benefit you the most. This can also be useful for a doctor trying to create a treatment plan.

Try over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. They are known to help relieve some of the symptoms. However, do not take too many as their effectiveness may wear off and this will make your migraines harder to treat in the future.

You can also take triptans, a medication that reverses the changes in the brain that are believed to cause migraines.

Antiemetics may help too, as they reduce nausea and vomiting.

More experimental methods include transcutaneous supraorbital nerve stimulation; essentially a headband with electrodes attached that prevent migraines from starting. There is also a 'learn to cope' treatment that exposes migraine patients to triggers, in order to desensitise them. This is often used in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy.

If you have migraines for more than five days a month, or have severe symptoms, you must seek medical attention, even if the condition can be controlled with medication.

Your doctor may offer you preventative treatment that can improve your quality of life. This medication includes anti-seizure medication and propranolol – typically used for high blood pressure – and can be very effective.

It may take several weeks for your symptoms to improve through using these treatments.

Be aware that migraines can be a sign of a more serious condition such as meningitis or a stroke. If you or someone you know experiences any of the following symptoms, you should call an ambulance immediately.

  • Paralysis or weakness in the arms or one side of the face
  • Slurred or garbled speech
  • Blinding pain caused by a sudden headache
  • Headache accompanied by fever, confusion, double vision, stiff neck, seizures and a rash

How to buy Migraine medications online

Buying migraine medications online can be convenient, especially if you're experiencing symptoms that leave you bedbound. We have a quick online consultation to complete and this will remain in your member's area for even quicker reordering should you need it in the future. Our service also includes free next-day delivery.