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Migraine Or Headache? How To Tell

Posted in: General Health 07 Sep, 2015

We're at the start of Migraine Awareness Week, which takes place from 6th-12th September. I get migraines on occasion so know a bit about how debilitating they can be. I do get a bit annoyed, as all migraine sufferers do, when someone comes into work moaning that they have a migraine. Frankly if you had a migraine, Simon, you'd be lying in a dark, silent room with only pain for entertainment, you wouldn't be at work whinging about your puny headache.

So What Is Migraine?

It's a throbbing, stabbing pain in your head. It can occur on just one side or if you are unlucky, on both. It generally hurts in the temples, above an ear, or behind an eye. You're not able to do very much when it strikes. Migraine pain and symptoms affect 18% of women and 8% of men in the UK, which is not a small number.

What are the Symptoms?

  • Severe headache
  • Visual disturbances. Spots, loss of vision, or flashing lights
  • Stress and worry over getting another migraine
  • A migraine can last 4-72 hours and strike every day or once a year

What Causes Migraine?

Experts are not sure, but there are certainly a lot of triggers and they all vary for the individual. Some researchers think that migraine sufferers are more sensitive folk with an 'excitable' brain. Their brains are more sensitive to stimuli than others.

I found that a bright computer screen would bring on migraines - that and partying too much at university. Not enough sleep, too much alcohol and a poor diet. Once I sorted that out the migraines seemed to fade away. I did get a corker last year when I spent a day on the beach without sunglasses though.

Here are some of the common triggers:

  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Missing meals
  • Strong light
  • Loud noise
  • Hormone changes
  • Stress
  • Weather changes
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Changes in routine and travel
  • Genetics - you're more likely to suffer if a relative did.

How Is It Different From A Headache?

Migraines are more severe than a tension headache. Generally a tension headache will not affect just one side of the head, whereas a migraine will. A headache will hurt, but you'll be able to get on with life. Migraines stop you in your tracks. Perhaps the most obvious difference is the involvement of visual disturbances, lights, nausea and vomiting.

What's The Cure?

I'm afraid there isn't one. Migraines have to be managed as and when they occur. Painkillers prescribed by a GP can help, and contraceptives can control hormonal migraines, but the best way to deal with migraine is to identify your triggers and leave them well alone. Your doctor can help but it's mostly down to self management.

Please Be Supportive

If you suffer from migraines you have my heartfelt sympathy. If a friend or relative gets them, can you please be understanding? It's not their fault and it's extremely upsetting and painful. Help them identify the triggers and work to avoid them in future, because until research finds a permanent cure, it's case of managing symptoms as best they can.

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