Chances are you suffer from migraines, or know someone who does. It’s a painful, debilitating disorder that is the cause of 25 million sick days every year.
WHAT IS IT?
It isn’t pulling a sickie or an excuse to shrug off an unwanted cuddle from hubby . “Migraine is not just a headache, it has other symptoms and has a major impact on life,” says Dr Mark Weatherall, a consultant neurologist. ” A migraine headache is usually an intense, throbbing pain on one, or sometimes both, sides of the head. Besides pain, migraine also can cause nausea and vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. Some people also may see spots or flashing lights or have a temporary loss of vision.”
Blame your parents… or your granny . “It’s often genetic -up to 90% of sufferers have a relative who is also a sufferer,” says Dr Mark adding, “I get them, and so did both my parents.” While the exact cause is unknown, researchers believe the migraine-prone brain to be much more sensitive to stimuli. Fortunately , a lot is understood about the triggers that cause them. “The triggers are usually found in the patient’s description of the history and pattern of the headache,” says Dr Mark. “It’s fascinating to me to hear people’s stories and the joy is that there is almost always something I can do to help.”
A doctor will ask you to keep a diary of your headaches and make note, for example, of hormone changes, food triggers (typically cheese, red wine, citrus), sleep patterns or stress.
Stop a migraine with over-the-counter pain-relief drugs, or talk to your doctor about trying a class of prescription drugs called triptans, which can also be bought direct from your chemist as Imigran Recovery .Preventative drugs Used daily many of these drugs were designed to treat other health conditions, such as epilepsy and depression, and can help a lot. Preventative drugs can reduce the frequency of attacks by approximately 50% and therefore improve the individual’s quality of life.
Manage the triggers you can control, such as hunger or stress. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day . Try not to skip meals. Engage in regular physical activity . Limit alcohol and caffeine intake.
“Complementary treatments do help some people and there is some evidence that acupuncture can alleviate the condition,” says Wendy Thomas, Chief Executive of The Migraine Trust.
Be smart about pain relief
People who use acute pain-relief medicine more than two or three times a week, or more than 10 days out of the month, can set off a cycle called medication-overuse headaches (MOH).
“There is a pattern of someone with quite bad headaches, who, over time, will take more and more painkillers until they are then taking them all the time. The first thing to do is recognise it,” says Dr Mark. “Patients don’t deliberately lie to me, but they are often embarrassed about what they’re taking. And they get to the point when the painkiller isn’t working and is actually giving them a headache,” he adds. The good news? “They may be scared about stopping, but about a quarter of them will start feeling better within a few weeks.”
“There are exciting new possibilities in the future with CRGP antibodies,” says Wendy . The CRGP jab is made from monoclonal blood protein compounds. These are antibodies -proteins produced by the body to fight infection -specifically engineered to fight the chemical that causes migraines.”This looks hopeful, maybe in four years.”
“When a headache starts one day and never goes away , that’s the one that I tell my medical students to pick up on because that could be caused by something more serious, such as a brain tumour,” says Dr Mark.
THE DOS AND DON’TS
Take pain relief as soon as symptoms begins.New research by Nurofen Express and Migraine Action shows that one in five mistakenly believes that their treatment will work better if they wait until the symptoms become unbearable before seeking pain relief.”Pain relief works most effectively if taken at the onset of symptoms before the pain escalates,” advises Fin McCaul, a community pharmacist.
Talk to your pharmacist to get the right medicine.”Different kinds of pain relief work in different ways,” says Fin.
– Seek treatment
Fewer than 50% of migraine patients consult a physician. Give up.
“Two of the main reasons that the preventer drugs `don’t work’ is that the dose isn’t high enough to be therapeutic and the drug isn’t taken for long enough,” says Jill Murphy , a headache specialist nurse. “In order to give a drug a fair and realistic trial, we would recommend at least three months at a therapeutic dose.Improvement often occurs on a month by month basis.”
– Do it alone.
“People suffering from chronic migraine often feel isolated and depressed, so it’s very important that they get support from family and friends,” says Wendy
Under current NHS guidelines, if you have chronic migraine 15 days or more per month and you’ve tried at least three other preventative approaches, you can have two sets of Botox. Some patients have seen a huge improvement. You can also try an injection in your head just above the neck, which aims to chemically block the pain pathway.