Migraine Awareness Week
With the arrival of migraine awareness week and as a migraine sufferer I thought it would be interesting to find out a little bit more about what is in fact one of the most common diseases in the world. Around 1 in 7 of us suffers from migraines and it is estimated that women are 3 times as likely as men to suffer from them. In the UK is estimated that over 190,000 attacks occur every day and 25 million days from work or school each year because of migraine which has a huge financial impact.
My first memory of migraine was at around 8 years old. I remember being out and unable to see clearly. By the time I arrived home, I had the most horrendous head pain. Fortunately my mum understood what I was experiencing and knew how to reassure me.
Whilst there are many different types of migraine, the most common symptoms of a migraine attack include throbbing headache, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea (feeling sick), vomiting (being sick) and lethargy (lack of energy).
Suffers often have no warning that an attack will occur, however, the pattern of each attack often follows the same. It is these stages and their symptoms which distinguish a migraine from a headache.
As an adult we can usually divide a migraine into four or five stages that lead on from each other:
Premonitory or warning phase
This included physical or mental changes such as tiredness, a stiff neck, feeling thirsty, mood changes, craving sweet foods, and for me it includes tingling in my top gum and front teeth.
This does not happen for everyone but can include a wide range of neurological symptoms lasting from 5 minutes to 60 minutes before the headache. The aura can also occur and not be followed by a headache.
Symptoms of aura include visual disturbances, numbness or tingling, vertigo, with speech and hearing often affected.
The headache or main attack stage
The head pain can be severe and is typically throbbing and worse with movement. The headache is often on one side of the head, especially at the start of an attack and the pain can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. It is common to be sensitive to light and noise at this time.
Most attacks fade away after a sleep, being sick or after crying a lot.
Recovery or postdrome stage
The final stage of the migraine attack often feels like a hangover and can take hours or days to disappear. The symptoms often mirror the beginning of an attack for example, if someone has lost their appetite at the beginning of an attack they may be very hungry in the recovery phase.
It is believed that any of the following may lead to a migraine and it is recommended that suffers complete a diary to try and determine which, if any, occur before an attack;
- Changes in routine
- Weekend headaches (often after a lie in or change in routine)
- Stress (including anxiety, excitement and shock)
- Sleep – both too much and too little
- Hormonal changes in women
- The environment including changes in the weather, exposure to light or load noises
- Computer screens/VDUs
- Food including lack of food, irregular eating, alcohol, cheese, monosodium glutamate, nitrates and aspartame
- Mild dehydration – aim to have 8 glasses of water a day in addition to usual drinks
- Drugs -Taking cocaine and withdrawal from cocaine can trigger an attack. Using cannabis can contribute to making your attacks more difficult to treat
- Regular and moderate exercise can prevent migraine whereas none or sudden vigorous exercise can be a trigger factor
- Oral contraceptives
- Teeth grinding – occlusal splints can be obtained from your dentist
- Physical conditions including head injury or muscle tension
There are a number of migraine treatments available, from conventional medicines to supplements, herbs and other complimentary therapies. The conventional treatments did not work for me and at 25 years old I was reluctant to try a daily preventative medicine. Despite there being no formal recommendations 20 years ago, my GP suggested acupuncture and I have never looked back. I do still have the occasional migraine, but now can go for several years between them.
Today the NICE guidelines since 2012 recommend that a course 0f 10 acupuncture should be considered as a treatment option for migraine sufferers as well as those who suffer with chronic tension headaches if neither topiramate nor propranolol are suitable or work well for you. Despite this recommendation it can still be difficult to access acupuncture through the NHS.
If you would like any information about how acupuncture might help you please give me a call
Migraine Trust https://www.migrainetrust.org
NICE (2016) https://www.nice.org.uk/Guidance/CG150