Migraine Awareness Week
The 5th to the 11th of September marks migraine awareness week. Migraines are moderate or severe headaches , usually felt on 1 side of the head. Other symptoms of migraines include nausea, being sick, sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines are common, but affect more women than men (around 1 in 15 men vs 1 in 5 women). Migraines are extremely debilitating and often stop those suffering from working, going to school or university or socialising. Migraine attacks can last from a few hours to days at a time.
Types of migraine
Migraine with aura - Warning signs before the migraine begins, like seeing flashing lights.
Migraine without aura - When a migraine happens without warning, this is the most common type.
Migraine aura without headache - Where aura or other migraine symptoms happen but head pain doesn’t develop.
Symptoms of migraine
A migraine is not just a bad headache, it is a painful and long-term health condition which causes symptoms throughout the whole body. Symptoms can include but are not limited to:
- Severe head pain
- Problems with your eyesight / seeing flashing lights
- Sensitivity to light, sound, smells, temperature
- Feeling sick and being sick
Symptoms may start many hours before head pain begins and last after you stop having head pain. Migraines may happen a few times a week, a month or a year and it’s not unusual for there to be multiple years between attacks.
It isn't very clear what exactly causes migraines, but it’s thought to be linked to abnormal brain activity affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. For many, there will be a genetic link. If you suffer from migraines you might find you have certain triggers that bring on an attack like stress, lack of sleep, hunger, alcohol, hormonal changes in women, and your environment (light, smells, temperature).
There is no cure for migraines but there are treatments available. The right treatment will depend on the regularity and severity of your attacks. Painkillers like paracetamol can be used to help with the head pain and anti-nausea medication used to reduce the feeling of being sick.
If you have multiple attacks every week or month then you can be prescribed preventative treatments which are taken daily to reduce how often you have an attack and how bad they are. A review of lifestyle factors and triggers may help to reduce the number of attacks.
Do migraines cause brain damage?
Some of those who do suffer from migraines, especially those who suffer with attacks regularly, might be worried about damage to the brain. If you had a brain scan, it could show some small changes known as brain lesions. People with migraines are more likely to have these lesions. As far as we know, these lesions are not associated with any neurological issues and don’t indicate risk of cognitive decline. Some might be told these lesions are related to transient ischaemic attacks (mini-strokes) however there is no evidence to support this.
As we get older we all experience age-related cognitive decline but there isn’t any current evidence that links migraines to excess brain damage or memory loss.
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