Sunday, September 11, 2016
For those that don’t suffer from migraines, it is a common misconception that they are just really bad headaches and that sufferers will be fine if they take a couple of over the counter painkillers. In reality, migraines are much more severe, with pain so debilitating, it is difficult to carry out day-to-day activities.
A headache is a relatively mild to moderate pain in the head only, not usually accompanied by any other symptoms, and can be treated with over the counter painkillers, rest, food or water.
A migraine is a more severe throbbing pain, usually at the front or side of the head. The pain can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting or light and sound sensitivity, all of which can last from a few hours to a few days. They can be extremely debilitating and sufferers often find the only thing they can do is rest in a dark, quiet room.
Sufferers can experience several types of migraines, including migraines with aura, where warning signs such as flashing lights, tingling or dizziness are experienced prior to pain. Other migraines include those without aura, or even silent migraines where warning symptoms occur but no headache develops.
Over the counter medications may help to reduce the pain if it is caught early enough. However, if these are not taken during the first stages of a migraine attack, they can be ineffective. Prolonged use can even worsen migraines, causing what is known as a rebound or painkiller headache. These occur when sufferers have built up a dependence on painkillers by taking them a few times a week over the course of several months. If this occurs, you should stop taking these painkillers altogether.
If pharmacy painkillers have no effect, prescription-only medications such as triptans can help to reduce pain by reversing the dilating of blood vessels in the brain, which is believed to be one of the causes of migraines. Anti-emetics, a form of anti-sickness medication is also known to alleviate migraine symptoms.
Any medication should be monitored by a doctor to ensure that you are safe during your treatment. Taking medication without the proper supervision can be incredibly dangerous, as shown in the case of Megan Biddle. Megan had suffered from migraines for several years and received treatment in 2010 during which she was prescribed Propranolol. She had stopped taking the medication in 2014, but took an accidental overdose last year when symptoms started again. Taking the prescription drugs without the proper supervisory care, unfortunately, resulted in her death. This is why it is so important to take prescription drugs only under the care of your doctor.
Some lifestyle changes can prevent or alleviate symptoms of a migraine. Start with keeping a migraine diary to identify any factors that trigger an attack. Include your diet, sleep patterns, any exercise routine and when symptoms appear. You may then notice a pattern in the occurrence of your migraines, and therefore be able to recognise the causes.
If you find that a specific food is a trigger, you should try to cut these out of your diet. Maintaining a specific daily routine can help, as unpredictability can also cause a migraine. Eat regular meals, stay hydrated and make sure you get sufficient sleep, as a lack of any of these factors can also set off an attack.
Exercise has been known to help symptoms, however, if you are not used to strenuous activity, suddenly subjecting yourself to an intense regime can also trigger a migraine. It is, therefore, better to build up an exercise routine slowly, starting with something gentle.
Although you can alleviate symptoms by identifying the causes, you should consult a doctor if you find that you suffer from migraines over five days per month. Our dedicated GP, Dr. Helen Webberley can help you to reduce the symptoms safely while monitoring your progress. She can also guide you through certain lifestyle changes that may be required, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.