The common migraine is a very painful type of headache. For unknown reasons, they tend to affect women more than men suggesting that hormones may play some role.

Migraines can be very distressing and disabling. An attack can last anywhere from four hours to several days. Symptoms experienced can be extensive but commonly include:

  • Pain and throbbing of the head
  • Pain exacerbated by movement
  • Feeling vaguely unwell (especially beforehand)
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Sensitivity to noise (phonophobia)
  • Sensitivity to smell (osmophobia)
  • Visual disturbances such as flashing lights, blind spots, fuzziness, difficulty focusing, often referred to as an ‘aura’.
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Confusion
  • Numbness in the extremities

Many people who experience migraines state that they can ‘feel’ a migraine coming on before the other symptoms begin. They report symptoms such as yawning, food cravings, a stiff neck, fatigue, irritability and depression as early warning signs of a migraine to come.

Aura symptoms affect up to 20% of migraine sufferers. They can be more than just visual disturbances. They can also present as parathesia or numbness of the skin or of a whole limb. It tends to affect one side of the body only and can last for a few minutes or a few hours.

There is no definitive cause for why some experience migraines and others don’t. There is thought to be genetic factors involved. There are a number of known ‘triggers’ for migraine attacks including:

  • Certain foods such as cheese, chocolate and food containing MSG.
  • Stress, excitement or fatigue
  • Changes in weather
  • Hormone levels and the oral contraceptive pill
  • Alcohol, especially beer and red wine.

Treatment options for migraines include avoiding known triggers, pain relieving medication, preventative medication and non-medicated therapies such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, exclusion diets and meditation.