A migraine is defined as a throbbing or pulsating headache that is limited to one side of the head (a unilateral headache). They are usually characterised by severe pain and are accompanied by nausea and hypersensitivity to light and sound. The exact causes of migraines are scientifically unclear, but certain triggers have been recognised that mark the onset of a migraine attack. A migraine is also often preceded by a sensory warning sign. Known as an ‘aura’, this includes flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in the arm or leg.
Three times as many women are affected by migraines than men. Some people may have several migraine attacks in a month, while others will only suffer from a few throughout their whole lives. They occur at any age, but are most likely to begin between the ages of 10 and 40, diminishing after the age of around 50.
The most prevalent symptoms of a migraine are severe pain on one or both sides of the head, accompanied by nausea, hypersensitivity to light (photophobia) and hypersensitivity to sound (phonophobia). The onset of pain is usually preceded by a sensory warning sign, known as an ‘aura’. These auras often manifest themselves as sparking flashes of light, dazzling zigzag lines in the field of vision, slowly spreading blind spots in the field of vision and language and speech problems.
Secondary to the pain and hypersensitivity, there are a number of other symptoms associated during the duration of the migraine. These include nausea and vomiting, sleep disruption, depression, head pain with a pulsating or throbbing quality and pain that worsens with physical activity.
Some patients suffering with regular migraine attacks also experience sensations of premonition (prodrome) several hours or day before. These include feelings of elation, cravings for sweets, thirst and drowsiness.
Though the exact causes of migraines are scientifically unclear, although the widening of blood vessels in the head (cerebral vessel vasodilatation) are prominent in most cases, certain triggers have been recognised that mark the onset of a migraine attack. A trigger is any stimulus that initiates a process or reaction. The most commonly identified triggers include alcohol consumption, altitude sickness, caffeinated drinks, physical exhaustion, glare from strong lights, pre and post-menstrual hormonal changes, hunger, lack of sleep, unusual smells, blood platelet disorder, low blood sugar, an adverse reaction to medication and stress.
The two types of treatment offered at the London Pain Clinic for migraines are medication, such as beta blockers, antidepressants, anti-neuropathic medication and Botox injections.