With 1 in 7 people affected by Migraine (over eight million people in the UK alone), the condition affects more people than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.
It's Migraine Awareness Week so with the help of Dr Guy Leschziner - Consultant Neurologist at London Bridge Hospital (www.londonbridgehospital.com) we have the facts covered.
What is a migraine and how does it differ from a headache?
"Headache has a variety of causes - most headaches are entirely benign, but other causes include inflammation or infection of any of the structures in the head, such as the ear, tooth or gums, tumours, blood vessel problems or musculoskeletal causes. One of the commonest causes of headache is migraine, which has particular features. It is often familial, and is typically a recurrent, often unilateral, headache, that is often pulsatile. There may be an associated aura - neurological symptoms that often precede the headache, classically visual problems such as flashing lights, zig-zag lines or blind spots."
What causes a migraine?
"The cause of migraine is likely to be genetic, in that it often runs in families, and that changes in certain genes have been found to cause migraine. However, a variety of factors may trigger migraine attacks - some people link attacks with foodstuffs such as cheese, red wine or citrus fruit, hormonal changes (migraine associated with periods is common in women), sleep (either too much or too little) or stress."
How can you treat migraine?
"Treatments are either to stop the headache when it starts or to prevent headahces from coming on. If migraines are relatively infrequent, the use of drugs to abort attacks is advisable, ranging from simple paracetamol or aspirin to a group of drugs called triptans. However, regular painkillers in the long-term can result in a form a headache called medication-overuse headache, so if the migraines are very frequent or very debilitating, preventative treatment is recommended. This usually involves regular medication, but some patients obtain benefits from injectable treatments such as botulinum toxin injections to the scalp, or blocking of nerves by injections of local anaesthetic."
What should you do if you feel a migraine developing?
Take a painkiller as soon as you feel the headache coming on - it is easier to stop a migraine developing than it is to treat once established.
Sleep if you can - sleep often improves migraine headaches.
If your headaches are frequent, don't be tempted to keep on popping painkillers, chat to your doctor about other options.