One in seven people in the UK suffer from migraines and it is estimated that there are 190,000 migraines every day, figures from Migraine Action suggest.
If you’re surprised by these statistics then it’s probably because of a wider lack of awareness about the condition, as many people still believe that it is ‘just a headache’. Yet sufferers will confirm that there’s much more to a migraine than a headache, it’s a serious health condition that can be disabling and disruptive to daily life.
They can last from four to 72 hours and the attack progresses in increasingly painful and disorientating symptoms, such as vomiting, dizziness, abdominal pain, numbness, slurring of speech and visual problems. Once the pain has subsided, a migraine can leave the sufferer feeling groggy and drained, which is often referred to as a ‘migraine hangover’ and affects the sufferer’s mood and appetite for days afterwards.
Migraines are one of the most common illnesses to affect the nervous system. From the 6th to the 12th September, the UK will mark Migraine Awareness Week, and you can follow everything that’s happening via the #NotJustAHeadache hashtag on social media. The week is dedicated to raising awareness of the condition and helping those who are suffering to fight the stigma. By improving our understanding of migraines as a serious illness, we can change people’s attitudes in the workplace, education and in general life.
We have spoken to some migraine sufferers, who have helped us to produce this useful guide. We understand that it is a complex condition that may not be caused be a single trigger, or any triggers at all, but we hope that this guide will provide some useful advice that may help sufferers in the future. If your migraines are severe, you may want to consult your doctor for information about preventative medication and pain relief, but you can also try these tips to coincide with medication. Don’t be afraid to speak to someone. According to Migraine Awareness, 60% of people never raise the problem with their GP because they believe that nothing can be done to prevent them, which is just not true.
The way we live can have a huge impact on our physical and psychological health, and certain behaviours have been linked to causing migraines. Adopt healthier lifestyle habits as a preventative measure.
Watch what you eat and drink
Sometimes migraines can be attributed to a poor diet. Irregular eating patterns, consuming foods that are high in sugar and fat, or drinking too much caffeine and alcohol are all dietary factors that could contribute to causing a migraine.
Endeavour to eat a balanced diet filled with fresh food, vegetables and fruit. Make sure you are drinking plenty of natural water to keep your body hydrated and stick to the same regular meal patterns as best you can.
Reduce technology use
Nearly everything we do involves looking at some sort of technology these days. We understand that it is difficult to avoid looking at screens while you are at work, but there are ways to limit your exposure. For example, you could avert your gaze for two minutes for every hour that you look at a screen, then go outside during your lunch break and avoid screens altogether.
Once you are home from work, reduce the time you spend looking at your phone, TV, or other device and give yourself at least one hour of technology-free time before you go to sleep. If you wear glasses, have regular eye tests to make sure that you are wearing the right prescription and wear them to prevent unnecessary eye strain.
Create a relaxing environment
If a migraine strikes you while you’re at home, then chances are you’ll retire to your bedroom. While it’s rare that you can stop a migraine in its tracks, it is a good idea to make this room as tranquil and unstimulating as possible.
Remove all technology and swap your phone for a traditional alarm clock. Use calming neutral colours to decorate, and keep patterns and bright colours to a minimum. As migraine sufferers can be sensitive to bright light, install a blackout blind that will block out any external light. With less light seeping in, you may find that a blackout blind also improves your quality of sleep and having a regular sleep pattern is important if you suffer from migraines. Take a look at some of the blinds you can use to create a distraction-free bedroom.
Migraines can be caused by a variety of different triggers, which may change throughout your lifetime. While you probably won’t pinpoint a particular trigger for your condition, you may find that a number of things increase your risk of having a migraine.
Some migraine sufferers report a particular stream of events that leads to a migraine, for example they may crave chocolate, which then gives them a migraine, but the craving of chocolate may be triggered by something else, such as feeling stressed, which could ultimately be responsible.
In addition to food and drink, behaviours and moods have been associated with causing migraines. Record a diary for a month to see whether any particular emotions, behaviours or food/drink affect migraines. For example, partaking in intense exercise, or getting up really early, may just be enough to trigger an attack. Or it could be brought on by stressful situations.