Migraines happen when blood vessels of the head and neck spasm or become narrow (constrict). Minutes to hours later, the blood vessels enlarge (dilate). When they dilate, they fill with blood, which causes more pressure in the skull, and so, a headache.
Migraine headaches happen in about six out of 100 people. They are common in children. In many cases they appear to run in the family. Migraine is not a serious or life-threatening disorder. It is painful and annoying at the time, but it is not usually a serious problem. About half of children who get migraines will continue to have them when they are adults.
Signs and symptoms
Headache, which may be:
- dull or throbbing
- all over or worse on the sides of the head
- on only one side of the head
- severe or mild.
The headache commonly lasts six to 12 hours. You may also:
- have loss of appetite
- feel sick – have nausea or vomiting
- look pale
- feel tired
- have stomach pain
SSP Physiotherapists are trained to make the diagnosis of migraine. In some cases, tests may be done to exclude other causes of headache. Most people do not need any tests, and there are no tests which prove the diagnosis of migraine.
Many things can trigger or start migraine headaches:
- being tired
- bright lights
- loud noises
- relaxation after physical or mental stress
- muscle tension over a long time
- smoking, or breathing tobacco smoke
- missing meals
- drinking alcohol
- caffeine (found in coffee, many energy drinks and some medicines)
- menstrual periods
- using oral contraceptives (the Pill)
- other conditions
In some people, migraine can be triggered or started by certain foods such as:
- foods containing the amino acid tyramine (red wine, aged cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, some beans)
- peanut butter
- fruits (avocado, banana, citrus fruit)
- dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese)
- baked goods
- meats containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats)
- foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive in many foods
- any processed, fermented, pickled, or marinated foods
Anything that has triggered a migraine in the past should be avoided if possible. The goals of treatment are to control your symptoms and prevent further migraines.
Care at home
- Regular meals and sleep patterns are very important.
- Resting in a quiet, dark room may reduce how severe the symptoms are when a headache happens.
- Paracetamol may reduce pain if taken at the beginning of the headache.
- Alternative therapies, including relaxation techniques, can help some people.
- There are other drugs that can be used to treat attacks of migraine and also drugs that can be used to help prevent attacks. Your doctor will discuss these with you.