Everything You Need To Know About Migraines

Woman having head ache holding hands on temples.

By Dr Elizabeth Kershaw-Yates, GP and one of the medical team at The Online Clinic. 

Migraine Awareness Week is 2nd to 8th September.

Migraine attacks vary in length and frequency depending on the person. For most sufferers, migraines are associated with pain, nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and noise, and changes in eyesight. Migraines are one of the most common health conditions in the world.

Dr Lizzie Kershaw-Yates

Dr Lizzie Kershaw-Yates

Which migraine do I have?

There are three different types of migraine, which vary in their characteristics. These are:

  • Migraine without aura – this is a throbbing headache at the front or at the side of the head (usually on one side). It can include moderate to severe pain, with nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to bright light and can be worsened by head movements.
  • Migraine with aura – This has all the same features of a migraine without aura but there is also a warning sign at the start of the headache. This could be visual – such as seeing flashing lights or experiencing a partial loss of vision – or it could be a sensation, such as numbness, struggling with speech or a smell.
  • Migraine with aura, without headache – This type of migraine has the same features of a migraine with an aura but without the onset of a headache.

What’s causing my migraines?

Migraine sufferers have a very sensitive nervous system, particularly when it comes to change. Migraines are usually caused by the person’s brain responding abnormally to signal and sensory information.

There are numerous external triggers that can cause migraines. These include:

  • Environment – high altitude, humidity, noise or flickering lights
  • Food which contains caffeine or food additives
  • Foods such as chocolate, cheese, red wine or citrus fruits
  • Psychological factors – such as stress, anxiety, depression or tiredness.
  • Sleep (either too much or too little)
  • Drugs – it could be sleeping pills or oral contraceptives.
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Mild dehydration
  • Eating irregular meals or not eating enough
  • A change in routine
  • Exercise

One thing that can help to pinpoint your triggers is to keep a migraine diary and write down when the migraine started, when it ended, and what your symptoms were, along with as many details about your daily life as you can.

Pensive woman writing in journal at patio table

Pic: iStockphoto

How are they treated?

A migraine can either be treated when it begins, or treatment to prevent it from happening. To treat a migraine when it begins, you can use:

  • Painkillers
  • Anti-sickness medication

There are also a number of treatments available to help prevent migraines from happening:

  • Triptans – a medicine which stimulates the production of a chemical in the brain (serotonin).
  • Beta-blockers
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressants
  • Botox

Some of these can have nasty side effects – talk to your doctor about them thoroughly before considering which you can try.




Moira Chisholm

I'm the Health Editor on My Weekly and am always interested to hear what's new in this fascinating field. I also deal with the gardening, shopping pages, general features, our website content and the Ask Helen problem page. I have a special interest in Christmas content because I'm on the team for Your Best Ever Christmas Magazine, too!