Migraine is unbelievably common in the UK and can be triggered by a multitude of factors ranging from genetics, food intolerances and allergies through to hormones, lifestyle, environment and wider medical issues.
Women are three times more likely to suffer with migraine than men, which is likely to be attributed to hormones. Migraines can be deliberating and seriously impede the quality of life for many sufferers with the effects lasting hours through to days. They are extremely painful and the symptoms, which can include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, can vary in intensity and duration.
One of the biggest causes of work absenteeism in the UK, migraine costs the economy over £3 billion per year with 25 million lost days of work.
Dr Steve Allder Consultant Neurologist at Re:Cognition Health advises all people suffering with headaches and migraines to diarise the symptoms in order to speed up diagnosis and medical treatment.
Below Dr Allder shares his tips for managing migraines:
1. Review your lifestyle: When people are getting the same repetitive headaches they should review factors such as stress, anxiety, sleep, exercise, diet and hormones. Try to make lifestyle adjustments e.g. decrease stress, increase sleep, drink more water etc to improve and ultimately eliminate the onset of migraines. Many people also have success with non-drug complementary therapies such as chiropractors, acupuncture and cranial therapy so individuals may wish to explore these various options.
2. Symptoms diary: Make a record of your migraines to review with medical expert to help speed up the diagnosis process. Record the following factors:
- Pain intensity (1-10)
- Location of pain
- Type of pain
- Duration – number of hours and changes in symptoms throughout this period
- Symptoms (vomiting, noise/light sensitivity, restricted vision ability to perform tasks e.g. not able to walk, work, restricted vision etc.)
- Menstrual cycle (if applicable)
3. Food Diary: Food intolerances as well as allergies and dietary habits such as dehydration, fasting and skipping meals can trigger the onset of migraines. Common offenders include coffee, carbonated drinks, alcohol, citrus fruit, cheese, nuts and chocolate. Make a record of meal and snack times as well as quantities consumed.
4. Research family history: Most migraines are caused by a genetic disposition, so it’s advisable to understand as much as possible on the circumstances and treatment. Factors such as symptoms, medication, what was / wasn’t successful etc are very useful in the diagnosis.
5. Seek medical advice: Your GP will conduct a physical examination to check the function of the nervous system, blood pressure, vision and neck pressure. Additional information such as medication and drug history should also be discussed at your appointment. GP’s will be able to prescribe medication and refer to a neurologist or other medical experts if applicable. It is here where information such as the migraine and food diaries and family history will assist in speeding up both diagnosis and referrals.
6. Be prepared: Some migraine sufferers feel an “aura” before the onset of the migraine which can include visual disturbances such as blind spots, blurred vision and coloured spots or sensations such as numbness, dizziness and pins and needles. When the aura is experienced it is advisable to be prepared to manage the migraine. Even if individuals don’t experience the aura, they should be prepared for a migraine in order to help reduce the symptoms. Preparation includes:
- Water – have water easily accessible, it is important to keep hydrated
- Have medication to hand – taking this at the earliest stage is key for many people
- Sensory distractions – have things like wet towels to soothe the head and sunglasses for bright light
- A quiet, dark room for sleeping
- Emergency contact numbers to hand
Dr Allder concludes: “In most cases analgesics such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are successful in treating the pain induced by a migraine, but many people require stronger, more tailored prescriptive drugs such as triptans. It is imperative the people affected by migraine seek medical advice to help manage the symptoms and make regular check-up appointments to review medication and management.”