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The truth about migraines

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Learn a little more about migraines and just how debilitating they can be this Migraine Awareness Week.

According to The Migraine Trust, a migraine is "an inherited tendency to experience a headache with sensory disturbance", an "instability in the way that the brain deals with incoming sensory information". Although migraines generally manifest in the form of a throbbing headache, they are far more debilitating; symptoms can include disturbed vision, extreme sensitivity to light, feeling sick and vomiting. Such sensory intrusions are known as a migraine with ‘aura’. They leave many sufferers with no choice but to lie still in a dark room. 

Migraines are also surprisingly common, having more prevalence among the population than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined, affecting around 1 in 7 people. Females are three times more likely to experience them, especially those going through puberty since they are most likely hormone driven. Subsequently, headaches are often a side effect of contraceptive pills, due to the fluctuation and change of hormones.

It is important to speak to your doctor if you experience migraines and are considering going on the pill – for example, taking the combined pill without a break is thought to lessen the effect of migraines.  However, it is extremely important to remember that if you do experience migraines with aura before or during use of the contraceptive pill, you will be advised not to take it. The combined contraceptive (oestrogen and progesterone) pill is associated in correlation with an increased risk of having an ischaemic stroke, and, though the risk is small, it is important to avoid it.

Although migraines can be managed by lying in a dark room, sleep, and the use of painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol, there is no official ‘cure’. If you continually experience them, it’s best to make an appointment with your GP: they’ll be able to put in place stronger painkillers, and repeated migraines can often reveal an underlying health problem.

Migraines can be utterly draining – so, if you experience one, it’s important to take the time that you need to recover - even if they are perceived as ‘just a headache’. As with many health conditions, the magnitude or severity of a condition is not felt until one experiences it for themselves.

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