What exactly is a migraine?
A migraine is a severe, painful headache that can include sensory warning signs like flashes of light, blind spots, tingling in the arms and legs, nausea, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound. These symptoms and the migraine headache can last for hours or even days at a time without the proper treatment.
What causes migraines?
While the cause of migraines are largely unknown, there are some factors, known as triggers, which could lead to the onset of a migraine.
• Allergies and allergic reactions
• Bright lights, loud noises, flickering lights, smoky rooms, temperature changes, strong smells and certain odours or perfumes
• Physical or emotional stress or tension
• Physical triggers such as tiredness, jet lag, exercise
• Changes in sleep patterns or irregular sleep
• Smoking or exposure to smoke
• Skipping meals or fasting causing low blood sugar
• Hormonal triggers such as menstrual cycle fluctuations, birth control pills, menopause
• Foods containing tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, and some beans), monosodium glutamate (MSG), or nitrates (like bacon, hot dogs and salami)
• Other foods such as chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, avocado, banana, citrus, onions, dairy products and fermented or pickled foods
• Medication such as sleeping tablets, the contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy
Ways to help prevent migraines
Although the occurrence of migraines might be sporadic and out of a person’s control, there are a few things that can be done to help decrease their onset.
1. Get enough sleep. Fatigue is a major trigger of headaches as well; aim to sleep seven or eight hours a night
2. Manage your stress. Responsibilities can be demanding, but by planning ahead, cutting out unnecessary stress and taking regular breaks one can decrease the risk of getting a severe headache or migraine
3. Stay hydrated. The human brain is more than 75% water, and it is very sensitive to the amount of water available to it. Too little water can lead to migraines
4. Don’t take too much medication. Medication is only appropriate for someone who suffers with headache a few times a month. If you are taking headache medication more than twice a week you are at risk of developing a Medication Overuse Headache. Constant headaches are a sign you need to see your doctor
5. Get professional help. It’s crucial that if your migraines persist, you get to the root of the problem. There are so many different structures in the head, face and neck, all of which can be involved in the migraine process. See your GP if your migraines occur often and/or are not responding to painkillers
What to do if you have a migraine
1. Lie down in a dark, quiet room
2. Put a cold, damp cloth over your forehead
3. Massage your scalp using a lot of pressure
4. Put pressure on your temples