Migraine advice » What is a migraine

Migraine is caused by the release of a chemical onto the surface of the brain; this causes arteries at this site to dilate (to widen) and this leads to the headache. This increasing widening makes the pain worse and worse. Migraines appear in episodes rather than being a daily headache. Visit NHS Heroes

A migraine attack can also commonly increase the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls responses to stress and pain. This increase can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. This also contributes to light and sound sensitivity and blurry vision, experienced by some when suffering from migraine.

Who suffers?
Migraines are not choosy – everyone is a potential victim and sufferers come from all walks of life. However, the condition affects 15-18% of women and 6% of men* (the percentage of women sufferers being higher due to hormonal factors). The migraines usually start in teenage years and can continue through to the late forties or fifties. It is rare for your first migraine to occur over the age of 50.

What causes it?
There are certain factors known to trigger migraine, including some foods (cheese, chocolate and coffee) and stress. See our list of common triggers.

What does it feel like?
Anyone who suffers from migraine will tell you that it’s no ordinary headache. “It can be excruciating. Agony. You feel like you’ve been hit with a sledgehammer.” The pain is sometimes preceded by signs, known as the ‘aura’, which can give you up to an hour’s warning before the headache kicks in. Typical symptoms can include wavy lines or flashing lights in your field of vision, which then becomes a blind spot. In 77% of cases (our latest research) a migraine is accompanied by nausea and 46% suffer vomiting. In some cases, one side of the body may feel numb. Although sufferers feel fine between attacks, the fear of the next occurrence can restrict their way of life considerably.

How long does a migraine attack last?
Attacks vary in frequency and severity. They can be over in just a few hours or last three or four days with sufferers having to take time off work or miss important social events – having a huge impact on their lives. In our latest research, 76% of sufferers had a holiday interfered with and 70% a family event, as a result of migraines.

Teenage life may provide many triggers which can cause adolescent migraines. Probably one of the biggest causes is stress, which can be at an all time high during exam periods.

In a survey, conducted by Migraleve, an overwhelming seven out of ten (68%) sufferers cited stress as a major contributing factor leading to the onset of an attack. Stress is something most of us are only too familiar with, but if teenagers don’t learn to spot a migraine from the onset, it could spell disaster at this difficult exam time,

Migraine attacks in adolescents are usually shorter than in adults and the symptoms may differ. The most common symptom, the headache, can occur in the forehead or the middle of the head rather than on one side and many also complain of feeling sick. Adolescents may also experience symptoms including pallor, sometimes with dark rings around the eyes, dizziness and confusion, lack of co-ordination or occasionally non-specific aches and pains in the limbs.

Follow these top tips developed by Migraleve® to stay migraine free and top of the class:

Top tips to beat exam stress and stay migraine free:

1. Eat regularly – lack of food or long gaps between eating is one of the most common trigger factors in adolescents. Chocolate, cheese and processed foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG) can also all be triggers.

2. Cut back on caffeine – although you may think several cups of coffee will see you through a late night revision session, excess caffeine intake can trigger migraine attacks. Try Ginseng tea to naturally rejuvenate and drink plenty of water as dehydration can also make it worse.

3. Don’t overdo it – overtiredness (physical or mental) and disruption in sleep patterns (e.g. late nights or a weekend lie-in) can trigger migraine. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep – no matter how much is left to be learned!

4. Chill out – learn relaxation exercises like abdominal breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques to help in those times of stress.

5. Get away from it all – take regular breaks and enjoy ten minutes of listening to quiet music, talking to a friend, drawing or spending time with a pet as these can all help to reduce stress levels.

6. Medication – keep Migraleve Pink on you, so you can give them to your child as soon as they feel an attack starting to develop.

If you would like to receive further information on living with migraine why not send for our information pack or request our free parent’s guide to childhood migraine?

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