Migraines

Summary

We don't fully understand all the causes of migraine headaches.

We do know that they're related to changes in the blood flow to the head and brain.

Migraines tend to run in families and usually first show up in the teenage or young adult years.

They're more common in women and often occur during, or right before, a period.

Symptoms

A typical migraine causes a severe throbbing pain on one side of the head.

The pain builds up during an attack and can last for several hours.

Sometimes migraine pain covers both sides of the head and is a dull pain. 

Other symptoms include:

  • seeing stars, flashes or zigzags
  • blurred vision
  • bright lights hurt the eyes
  • nausea and/or loss of appetite
  • forgetfulness, especially words
  • numbness or tingling
  • weakness or clumsiness.

Triggers

Although causes are not fully understood, some people find certain things trigger a migraine attack. These include:

  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • skipping a meal
  • alcohol, particularly red wine
  • taking birth control pills
  • changes in the weather
  • chocolate
  • food preservatives or additives, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • caffeine (in coffee, tea and carbonated drinks).

Treatment

When to see your doctor

If your headaches are frequent or you can't control them by avoiding triggers, see your doctor. There are specialised migraine medicines that may help.

Self care

Try to identify what happens before a migraine starts, then avoid those triggers in the future.

When you get a migraine, rest in a dark, quiet room. Cool compresses on your forehead may help.

You can get painkillers from a pharmacy – but make sure you read the instructions and precautions carefully.