A migraine is usually a severe or a moderate headache felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head.
Many people also have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
Causes of migraines
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although they're thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.
Around half of all people who experience migraines also have a close relative with the condition, suggesting that genes may play a role.
Some people find migraine attacks are associated with certain triggers, which can include:
Starting their period
Certain foods or drinks
There's no cure for migraines, but some treatments are available to help reduce the symptoms.
- Painkillers-- including over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
- Triptans-- medications that can help reverse the changes in the brain that may cause migraines
- Anti-emetics-- drugs often used to reduce nausea and vomiting
- During an attack, many people find that lying or sleeping in a darkened room can also help.
There's currently no cure for migraines, although some treatments are available to help ease the symptoms.
It may take time to work out the best treatment for you. You may need to try different types or combinations of medicines before you find the most useful ones.
Your GP may prescribe something stronger if you believe you can't manage your migraines using over-the-counter medications.
During an attack
When having a migraine attack, most people find that lying or sleeping in a darkened room is the best thing to do.
Others find that eating something helps, or they start to feel better once they've been sick.
Many people who have migraines find that over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen, can help to reduce their symptoms.
They tend to be most effective if taken at the first signs of a migraine attack, as this gives them time to absorb into your bloodstream and ease your symptoms.
It's not advisable to wait until a headache worsens before taking painkillers as it's often too late for the medication to work. Soluble painkillers (tablets you dissolve in a glass of water) are a good alternative because they're absorbed quickly by your body.
Suppositories may be a better option if you can't swallow painkillers because of nausea or vomiting. These are capsules that are inserted into the anus (back passage).
You should make an appointment to see your GP if common painkillers aren't helping to relieve your migraine symptoms. They may recommend taking painkillers in addition to a type of medication called a triptan and possibly anti-sickness medication (see below).
Triptan medicines are a particular painkiller for migraine headaches. They're thought to work by reversing the changes in the brain that may cause migraine headaches.
They cause the blood vessels around the brain to contract (narrow). This reverses the dilating (widening) of blood vessels that's believed to be part of the migraine process.
Triptans are available as tablets, injections and nasal sprays.
Common side effects of triptans include:
feelings of heaviness in the face, limbs or chest
Some people also experience nausea, dry mouth and drowsiness. These side effects are usually mild and improve on their own.
As with other painkillers, taking too many triptans can lead to medication overuse headache.
Once you've finished your first course of treatment with triptans, your GP will usually recommend having a follow-up appointment. This is so you can discuss their effectiveness and whether you had any side effects.
Treatment will usually be continued if the medication was helpful. Your GP may try prescribing a different type of triptan since responses can be highly variable if they weren't effective or caused unpleasant side effects.
Triptans available without prescription Migraitan
Anti-sickness drugs, known as anti-emetics, can successfully treat a migraine in some people even if you don't experience nausea or vomiting. These are prescribed by your GP and can be taken alongside triptans and painkillers.
As with painkillers, anti-sickness medicines work better if taken as soon as your migraine symptoms begin. They usually come in the form of a tablet but are also available as a suppository.
Side effects of anti-emetics include drowsiness and diarrhoea.
You can buy a number of combination medicines for migraine without a prescription at your local pharmacy. These medicines contain both painkillers and anti-sickness medicines. Ask your pharmacist if you're not sure which one is best for you.
It can also be very effective to combine a triptan with another painkiller, such as ibuprofen.
The dose of painkillers or anti-sickness medicine may not be high enough to relieve your symptoms. If this is the case, it may be better to take painkillers and anti-sickness medicines separately.