5 things you should know about Migraines
by James Meikle
1 A review of previous studies published yesterday suggests that having migraines doubles the risk of strokes, and women who suffer from migraines and who are on the pill are eight times more likely to suffer a stroke than those not on oral contraceptives.
2 A migraine is far more than just a headache. An attack usually involves severe throbbing pain on one side of the head, over the eye or temple, often with nausea or vomiting or both, diarrhoea, severe stiffness and a dislike of bright light or loud noise. About one in 10 Britons have an attack each year which can last hours or days. There are two major types, the less common involving aura, a group of symptoms linked to visual disturbance before the onset of the main headache, and including pins and needles and a sense of weakness down one side of the body.
3 They are more common in women and usually strike first before the age of 30. Around a quarter of women in their mid to late 30s may suffer them, hence the worries about the pill. Some people have several attacks a year, while others will suffer them infrequently.
4 It is not certain what causes them, but there is a suspicion they are linked to chemical reactions caused by the release of serotonin into the bloodstream disrupting neurotransmitters. They are accompanied by a widening of the blood vessels in the brain. Trigger factors include stress, depression and hormonal changes. Being on the pill may also be a risk factor. Certain food and drink, including chocolate, cheese, citrus fruit and red wine, have also been blamed.
5 Ordinary over-the-counter pain killers may help but doctors or pharmacists might instead prescribe triptans to help combat the imbalance of serotonin and anti-nausea medication. People at high risk of repeat attacks might be put on preventative medication. Or they can avoid food that might trigger attacks, have regular meals, follow regular sleep patterns and learn relaxation techniques.