Blinding. Banging. Pounding. However you would describe the pain of a migraine, there’s no doubt these headaches can be debilitating.
Migraine is among the most common problems we see in Babylon’s Symptom Checker. In the UK, around 33% of women and 13% of men can expect to deal with a migraine at some point in their lives.1
If you're one of the many who suffer migraines, here’s our guide to handling them.
1. Spot migraine symptoms
First, it helps if you can recognise when your headache is a migraine. The sooner you identify it, the earlier you can treat it.
A migraine headache is often one-sided, but not always. It’s a pulsating or throbbing pain that gets worse when you move about. It can become severe and disabling. Along with the pain, you may have nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound, or smells. You may have to lie down in a quiet, dark place to recover.2
This is different from a tension-type headache. These are also common, and often linked to stress, caffeine, or sleep disturbance.1
With a tension-type headache, you’ll generally feel the ache on both sides of your head, and it feels like a tightening or pressing pain.2 The pain may be mild or moderate, but isn’t usually bad enough to stop your usual activities.
It’s always best to get migraines diagnosed by a doctor.
2. Be alert to aura
Another symptom to look out for is aura. About 1 in 3 people with migraine experience aura.3
Visual auras are the most common.1 These can include seeing sparkling or flashing lights, wavy lines, or blind spots. The next most common type is numbness or pins and needles. Some people have difficulty speaking.
Aura tends to start before the headache. A headache often develops before the end of the aura or within an hour of the end.3 If the aura itself is lasting more than an hour, you should seek urgent medical help as this can be a red flag sign.
Sometimes aura also happens alone, without the pain.3 Take note of any aura you experience. And take action at the first sign - you may be able to stop a migraine before it takes hold.
3. Treat early
Don't try to tough out your migraines. There are effective treatments that can help you feel better and get back to your life.
The main treatment for migraines is medication. This is most effective when you take it as early as possible in your migraine attack.4
There are many different medications available. These include over-the-counter (OTC) pain killers, such as aspirin (not for children), paracetamol or ibuprofen.1
You can also get pain relief formulated for migraines, such as Sumatriptan.1 You can get a limited amount of this over the counter if diagnosed with migraines, otherwise you will need a prescription from your GP.
Some treatments have a combination of medications. They may include an anti-sickness medication to reduce nausea and vomiting.1 Some are taken as a nose spray, which can be helpful if you vomit with a migraine.1 Avoid taking opiate-containing medications, including codeine.4
Check with your doctor or pharmacist for medication recommendations.
4. Track your triggers
Sometimes, migraines develop for no clear reason. But some people find that certain factors can bring on symptoms. Common triggers include:
- Stress, or relaxing after a stressful event3
- Sleep disturbance — either too much, or too little3
- Skipping meals or drinks3
- Lack of exercise1
- Hormones — for example, around your period1
- Certain foods — for example, cheese, chocolate, alcohol, citrus fruit3
Everyone’s triggers are different. Keeping a headache diary can help you spot any patterns emerging. As well as your symptoms and treatments, include your periods, stress levels, and food and drink. You can then take steps to avoid triggers whenever possible.
5. Try alternative treatments
Whilst medication is the main treatment, some people find alternative treatments effective too. Acupuncture may help. Doctors recommend a course of 10 sessions over one or two months.1
Behavioural treatments, such as relaxation techniques can help some people. You could try mindfulness or meditation.1
6. Migraine-proof your lifestyle
If you get regular migraines, it might be worth taking a look at your lifestyle. You’re more likely to get migraines if you’re overweight, stressed, or tired.1
Do your best to:
- Do regular physical activity
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet, without too much caffeine
- Manage your stress levels
- Get enough sleep - but not too much
7. Talk to your doctor
It’s always best to get advice from your doctor, especially if migraines are impacting your life.
Your doctor may prescribe medications that you can’t get from a pharmacy to prevent or treat migraine attacks. A combination of medications may be best to treat migraines effectively. You’ll work with your doctor to find the best treatment for your needs.
You can book an appointment with a Babylon healthcare professional any time. To book a Babylon Video Appointment 24/7, download the Babylon Health app.
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The Migraine Trust
- Migraine Clinical Knowledge Summaries. published May 2021
- National Headache Management System 2019. British Association for the Management of Headache.
- Patient.co.uk. Professional Article: Migraine, accessed 2 August 2022
- Patient.co.uk. Professional Article: Migraine Management, accessed 2 August 2022
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.