Published: 08 Sep 2011 - The Sun
I'LL be blunt – all these well-intentioned health awareness weeks give me a headache... which is ironic because this is migraine awareness week.
I'm happy to bang the drum — quietly — for migraine sufferers, though, because little-known facts and oft-repeated myths about migraine need highlighting. So here goes.
MYTH: Migraine is the commonest cause of headache.
Wrong. Most headaches are caused by tension. That said, there is a lot of migraine about. At least one in four women and one in 12 men suffer from it at some time in their lives.
FACT: We don't know the cause.
It used to be thought that migraine resulted from abnormal blood flow to the brain — with blood vessels first squeezing shut, then suddenly opening, causing the thumping headache. But that idea has fallen out of fashion. It's now believed that migraine is caused by a brain function problem — which explains why sufferers feel odd or may have trouble concentrating before, during or after attacks.
MYTH: Migraine is a minor inconvenience.
OK, it's not life-threatening but it's not "just a little headache" either. Most sufferers are poleaxed by it — so if you can carry on with normal daily activities, it probably isn't migraine. The pain is typically one-sided, throbbing, worse when moving your head and lasts from hours to a few days.
FACT: Migraine causes other symptoms.
Many sufferers also feel sick — or actually vomit — during an attack. And some experience an "aura" — symptoms which come on before an episode and warn that a migraine is on the way. The most well-known include flashing lights in the eyes or temporary loss of vision. Other possibilities are pins and needles down one side and speech difficulties. These symptoms usually disappear after a few minutes but can last up to an hour.
MYTH: You need tests to make the diagnosis.
No. As with most headaches, the doc can usually work out what's up simply from your description — what it's like, what brings it on, how often it happens, what other symptoms you get and so on. Special tests, such as brain scans, are rarely needed — and then only to rule out other problems, not to confirm migraine.
FACT: There is effective treatment available.
Many patients take analgesic drugs to relieve pain and stiffness when the attack begins. These can include aspirin and ibuprofen and stronger prescription drugs such as diclofenac and naproxen. These tend to be more effective when taken as soluble, effervescent or liquid formations because they are absorbed quicker.
Specific anti-migraine drugs relieve pain by narrowing blood vessels in the head and blocking the transmission of pain in nerves. These include sumatriptan, almotriptan, eletriptan and naratriptan.
Don't let the headache get a grip — take painkillers as soon as you feel one coming on. Of course, painkillers won't work if you've just vomited them down the loo. So if you tend to throw up with your migraine, speak to your GP about anti-sickness treatment, too. It's also worth seeing your doc if you get frequent attacks — he can prescribe regular medication to prevent them.
MYTH: Migraine is usually triggered by red wine, chocolate and cheese.
Many things can spark a migraine. You may have to keep a "migraine diary" to work out what causes yours, though you may never find a clear pattern. The most common dietary trigger is actually missing meals, so it's important to eat regularly.
FACT: Migraine tends to improve, or even disappear, with age.
And sufferers can improve their odds — for example, by not getting into the habit of taking painkillers all the time and by losing weight if they need to.
Hope that helps. Anyway, I'm off to take some aspirin.
“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” Buddha[/color][/i]