18% of women, 6% of men and 10% of children experience migraines in the US. A migraine is considered to be a moderate or severe headache, felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. People can feel sick during this time, struggle with loud noises and even become more sensitive to light.

It is the third most prevalent health condition in the world and leads to around 1.2 million emergency room visits annually. However, there is so much that is not understood about it, often causing unnecessary panic and a sense of isolation among those who suffer from it.

So to help those afflicted to better understand their condition, and to inform those who care for others with migraines, we have broken down the most common triggers and how they can potentially be avoided.

Woman migraine

What are the symptoms?

Obviously the most notable trait of a migraine is a headache. For some sufferers these can occur weekly, whereas for others years could pass between attacks. Similarly, the intensity of the pain, or any accompanying symptoms, can vary.

These nuances between each case make the condition hard to categorize. However, migraines typically fall into one of three groups. These are:

Migraine with aura – Where there are specific warning signs that precede the headache. This could be seeing lights or experiencing nausea.

Migraine without aura – Where there are no warning signs and the headache is the first indication of the migraine.

Migraine aura without headache – Also known as a silent migraine, these migraines have warning signals but no headache develops.

If the pain is agonising – unlike anything you have experienced before – then it is recommended that you visit a hospital. Additionally, call 911 if you experience any of the following:

  • Paralysis or weakness in either arms or one side of the face
  • Slurred speech or an inability to speak coherently
  • A headache with a high temperature, stiff neck, confusion, seizure, double vision and/or a rash.

The above are signs of a stroke or meningitis and should be assessed by a doctor as soon as possible. Likewise, if you suffer from semi-regular migraines, you should make an appointment with your doctor to ensure your condition is in check.

What triggers migraines?

The root cause of migraines is not known, but there is a school of thought that they are caused by changes in serotonin levels. Serotonin impacts your blood vessels, and when levels are high, your blood vessels shrink. When serotonin levels fall, however, blood vessels swell. This swelling is supposedly what causes the pain for many sufferers.

Other research suggests that migraines are, in fact, hereditary. According to the American Migraine Foundation, if one of your parents has migraines, there is a 50% chance that you will too. If both of your parents have migraines, your likelihood to inherit the condition is 75%.

If you do have a genetic predisposition to migraines, then there are certain triggers you can either avoid or prepare yourself for. These include:

Food and drink There is a whole host of foods linked to migraines, from aged cheese to passion fruit. Like an allergy, these foods can trigger an attack. Skipping meals has the same effect, so try starting a food diary and isolating the ingredient that seems to be causing the reaction.

Hormone changes Perhaps one of the reasons why women are more likely to suffer from migraines than men is that the condition is triggered by their menstrual cycle or hormonal contraceptives.

Stress If you are overwhelmed at work, struggling to get enough sleep or you have exercised to the point of exhaustion, your stress levels can trigger a migraine.

Sensory overload – If there are unexpected bright, flashing lights, you may trigger a migraine. The same can be said if you smell strong scents, like paint, or if you hear a loud sound.

Medicine A reaction to medicine may trigger migraines. This is why it is always useful to consult your doctor before taking any new medication and ask them whether or not it may have an effect on your condition.

Illness – If you catch the common cold or suffer from the flu, you may trigger a migraine as a result of already having a weak immune system.

While not all of the above are avoidable, recognizing them may help to alert you (or those who care for sufferers) to an upcoming migraine.

man headache

Treatment

There is no cure for migraines. However, a number of treatments are available to treat the symptoms. Over-the-counter painkillers are a solution that can take the edge off, but they should not be relied upon as the more frequently you take them, the less likely they are to work in the future. Try to take a smaller dose instead, and then lie down in a darkened room.

If painkillers are not helping relieve symptoms, then consider triptan medicines. Triptans are a specific painkiller for migraines and they are thought to work by reversing the changes in the brain that cause headaches. They achieve this by reducing the swelling of your blood vessels and can be taken as tablets, injections or nasal sprays if you struggle to swallow.

Struggling to swallow can be helped by taking anti-sickness medicines, known as antiemetics. These can be useful even for sufferers who do not experience sickness, and are prescribed by your doctor. If you plan on creating a combination of medication using any of the above, again, be sure to consult your doctor beforehand.

How Medix can help

At Medix, not only can we offer guidance on living with migraines, we can also support you in choosing the most suitable medication. Our team is equipped with extensive pharmaceutical knowledge and is well placed to explain the nuances of each solution.

If you are in need of a little additional guidance, simply call 1-866-500-6633 (toll-free phone number) or +44 1438 500111 (international phone number).