More than “just a headache”

Way more than headache but what is it?

"Migraine is an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger." Professor Peter Goadsby, Professor of Neurology, King’s College London; Director, NIHR-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility, King’s College Hospital London; Trustee of The Migraine Trust.

What is migraine?

Migraine is a complex condition with a wide variety of symptoms. For many people the main feature is a painful headache. Other symptoms include disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, feeling sick and vomiting. Migraine attacks can be very frightening and may result in you having to lie still for several hours.

The symptoms will vary from person to person and individuals may have different symptoms during different attacks. Your attacks may differ in length and frequency. Migraine attacks usually last from 4 to 72 hours and most people are free from symptoms between attacks. Migraine can have an enormous impact on your work, family and social lives.

Are there different types of migraine?

There are different types of migraine. In 1988 the International Headache Society produced a classification system for migraine and headache which has been adopted by the World Health Organisation. This has been updated since then and is the established basis for defining types of headaches. The International Classification of Headache Disorders system gives different names to the different types of migraine and headache that involve different symptoms.  This helps doctors to diagnose and treat them.

The most common types of migraine fall into two categories:

The ‘migraine with aura’ label is also used for some of the rarer forms of migraine, which also have another name. These include migraine with brainstem aura, where symptoms such as loss of balance, double vision, or fainting can occur. Familial hemiplegic migraine, where reversible paralysis occurs, is also classed as ‘migraine with aura’. There are other rare forms of migraine, which are classed separately.

Not everyone will have a ‘typical’ migraine. The experience of the condition will be unique to you.

Headache or migraine?

Distinguishing between different types of headache can be difficult. You can experience different types of headaches at different times of your life for varying reasons. For example, if you have migraine you may also experience other types of headache. Keeping a migraine or headache diary is really useful and can be invaluable in trying to identify a specific headache type.

What is the treatment?

The complex nature of migraine means that the treatments available are varied and differ from person to person. There is currently no cure for migraine.

What causes migraine?

There is no known cause for migraine, although most people with it are genetically predisposed to migraine. If you are susceptible to migraine there are certain triggers which commonly occur. These include stress, lack of food, alcohol, hormonal changes in women, lack of sleep and the environment.

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