A migraine is not just a headache, which is what some people assume (and scoff at) when colleagues aren’t able to come in to work because they are suffering from one.
They can be quite disabling and, according to The Migraine Trust who quoted Shapiro & Goadsby in Cephalalgia 2007, is one of the least publicly funded of all neurological illnesses.
In the same report, they said that in the UK there are 190,000 attacks a day, and that each year, 25 million work and school days are lost because of migraines.
It is one of the most common health problems, with around 15% of the population suffering at least once in their lifetime, according to the NHS.
That makes roughly 8 million people.
Talking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle, Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, chief medical officer for Bupa says: “Migraines are probably more common than you think, affecting one in seven adults in the UK.”
To mark Migraine Awareness Week, we’ve put together a guide featuring expert opinion that looks at the symptoms and triggers of a migraine, as well as help and advice if they keep recurring.
The symptoms can be deeply unpleasant and The Migraine Trust describes it as a ‘complex condition’.
THE STAGES OF A MIGRAINE
1. ‘Prodromal’ (pre-headache) stage. Some people experience changes in mood, energy levels, behaviour and appetite, and sometimes aches and pains several hours or days before an attack.
2. Aura. Symptoms of aura include flashes of light or blind spots, difficulty focusing, and seeing things as if you are looking through a broken mirror. This stage normally lasts around 15 minutes to an hour.
3. Headache stage. This is usually a pulsating or throbbing pain on one side of the head. You usually have nausea or vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to bright light and loud sounds, with a strong desire to lie down in a darkened room. This stage lasts for four to 72 hours.
4. Resolution stage. Most attacks gradually fade away. Some people find the headache stops suddenly after they have been sick. Sleep often relieves the symptoms.
5. ‘Postdromal’ or recovery phase. There may be a stage of exhaustion and weakness afterwards.
Dr Zollinger-Read says: “The main symptom is a severe, throbbing headache, which can last for anything between four and 72 hours. The headache is usually on one side of your head. However, a migraine is much more than just a headache – other symptoms include feeling sick or being sick, sensitivity to light and noise, and disturbed vision. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but often, symptoms are so debilitating that the person will need to lie down in a dark, quite room for several hours.”
There is no hard and fast rule as to how often you may suffer from a migraine. But, there can be triggers which set a migraine off.
If you’re trying to figure out what your trigger is, don’t just examine what happened in the hour before you got the migraine – often triggers happen about six to eight hours before the migraine occurs. The Migraine Trust also says that your triggers may change with age, as they can be affected by levels of stress and hormones.
Women get more migraines than men – they are 18% likely to get one while 8% of men are likely to suffer from one. No one quite knows why that is, but experts have indicated that it may have something to do with hormones.