MIGRAINES & HEADACHES: NEW WAYS TO BEAT THE PAIN
For the one in seven Aussies who suffer from migraines, the pain can be crippling. Our experts discuss common causes — and the latest treatments to ease symptoms.
Experts examine the causes of the pain, and new ways to ease symptoms
For anyone who can shift a headache with a couple of paracetamols, it may be hard to understand that a migraine can put you out of action for hours, if not days.
Ever wondered how bad a migraine can be? “During a severe attack, some people feel they would rather be dead, in contrast to people who have had a heart attack and worry they may die,” says neurologist Dr Jon Simcock.
Watch someone grappling with a migraine, and it’s easy to understand why World Health Organization experts have called migraine the third most disabling human medical condition.
What is a migraine?
Migraines affect about one in seven people and may be experienced regularly — on average, around 13 times a year. For around 30 per cent of people who get them, migraines are preceded by an aura — that is, loss of vision and flashing lights. Migraines are often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and they can also be associated with hypersensitivity, particularly to light and noise, and sometimes even to strong smells.
A migraine can last for hours or days. The severity and frequency of migraines can be highly variable between people, and over one person’s lifetime. It happens as a result of abnormal brain activity affecting nerve signals. Pain nerves switch on when nothing is wrong, forcing the body to experience and cope with a series of other changes.
Learning to recognise your triggers for a migraine can give you some ability to help deal with an attack, and to avoid or limit the impact migraines have on your life.
We don’t yet know the underlying causes, but some common factors may bring on a migraine.
The six usual suspects are:
SPECIFIC FOODS OR DRINKS Common triggers include chocolate, caffeinated or alcoholic drinks, artificial sweeteners, and cheese.
DEHYDRATION This common trigger is easiest to avoid by ensuring you drink eight glasses of water, spacing them out throughout the day.
CHANGE TO ROUTINE Skipping meals, sleeping in at the weekend or doing an all-nighter at work are all potential triggers.
SLEEP Both too much and too little sleep are linked to a migraine attack.
ANXIETY OR STRESS Some sufferers say that any kind of tension or shock leads to an attack. Others report that a migraine strikes once stress is reduced — at weekends or on holiday. Learning how to pace yourself may help prevent migraines.
HORMONAL CHANGES For women, migraines may improve during the later teens and 20s, only to worsen after having children, then improve again after menopause. For some women, migraines are predictable at certain times in their monthly cycle.