Living with migraine

THE burden of a headache during your daily routine is frustrating but tolerable. But sometimes the headache can be so painful it causes you to vomit and even pass out.

This is what migraine victims throughout the country fear, as they know that they will be unable to carry on with their day as soon as the warning signs appear.

This week is Migraine Awareness Week and it aims to provide information to migraine sufferers to help them manage their migraine effectively.

It also aims to improve education about migraine among non-sufferers and tell them how they can support people with the condition.

Migraine is very common. We all probably know someone who suffers from it as it occurs in 10 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women.

An attack can last from four to 72 hours, although sufferers may feel drained for a couple of days afterwards. A sufferer can experience an average of 13 attacks a year but can remain symptom-free between attacks.

Dr Peter Cleland, is a consultant neurologist, at Sunderland Royal Hospital. He said: "Migraine is a genetic condition characterised by severe headaches and a range of other physical symptoms.

"These symptoms can be enhanced by other factors such as certain foods (cheese, chocolate, red wine) stress and sleep deprivation.

"They are also hormonal and, interestingly, 80 per cent of women say their migraines improve or disappear completely during pregnancy."

Dr Cleland believes that his neurology team can sort out difficult migraine and they treat 90 per cent of cases very well. His job is to establish that it is in fact a migraine the patient is suffering from and by taking a detailed health history he can diagnose what sort of headache it is.

He explained: "People often don't realise that what they are suffering from is a medication overuse headache.

"If you suffer from migraine and then eat paracetamol like Smarties you will convert the migraine into an overuse headache.

"Taking more than eight paracetamol tablets a day continuously will cause this condition to occur."

He added: "If you think you are suffering from a migraine it is important that you see your GP. He should be able to advice you on how to control and even prevent the headaches, or refer you to hospital."

There is no miracle cure for migraine, which is why an effective management plan is so important.

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Top tips for dealing with migraine

* Keep a diary to identify what triggers your migraine.

* Avoid triggers to which you know you are sensitive.

* Avoid sugary snacks.

* Avoid, or at least limit your caffeine intake.

* Drink plenty of water – two litres a day.

* Maintain a regular sleep pattern.

* Take regular exercise.

* Get plenty of fresh air and practise deep breathing.

* Ensure that ventilation indoors is good and try to keep rooms at a constant temperature.

* Avoid strong perfumes.

* If you spend time at a computer take regular breaks.

* Learn relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.

* Have a food allergy test to identify any foods that could be causing your migraine.

Gillian's story

Gillian Connor started to suffer from migraine when she began taking the contraceptive pill.

"I was about 21 when I had my first one, I went straight to the doctor who diagnosed it as a cluster headache," said, Gillian, from Sunderland.

"This turned out to be wrong. Later I was given medication for migraine. I have tried all sorts of prescription drugs but I am not really comfortable about taking them so now I just use over-the-counter medication if I am in a lot of pain."

Gillian does not suffer from severe migraine and, like many others, she hides the pain by carrying on with her daily routine.

She explained: "I feel like I may get one every week but I am lucky because as soon as I feel one coming on I take some Anadin and that usually stops it."

"I just carry on with my day even with a migraine, I would love to be able to go home and lie down but I can't afford to just stop."

She added: "I imagine there are a lot of people who do the same, especially if they do not realise that they are experiencing a migraine."

Many sufferers are lucky enough to control the effects like Gillian but if they are not quick enough in recognising the symptoms a full migraine can plague them for up to five days.

She said: "Personally my triggers are doing too much, not getting enough sleep or sleeping to much and skipping meals."

"Before a migraine I always feel really thirsty and my back and neck aches. I try to tell myself its from lifting or something but I know deep down its the start of a migraine."

"I now tend to use alternative therapies and I think everyone should try these."

"Cooling headache pads are a great relief and my sister gave me a ring with a haematite stone, she swears by it for migraine relief."

Barbara's story

Barbara Davis lives in Sunderland and has been suffering from migraine for 37 years. The single mum-of-one has to juggle the same chores of everyday life as any other mother but when she gets that sick feeling in her stomach she knows she is going to be no use to anyone.

"I was 13 when I had my first migraine and before I was diagnosed I used to pass out with the pain. It was very frightening.

"It's a really awful condition. I always worry that I will have to let people down as I can't function when my migraine takes over."

Barbara suffers from roughly three migraine a month and they can last for up to three days. Even a week after the severe headache has stopped she still feels dazed.

Everybody has different symptoms when they feel a migraine coming on.

Barbara explained: "I usually start to vomit before I get a headache, I also get blurred vision which I can only describe as flashing lights in both my eyes. It always starts on the side of my head which aches the most.

"I tend to feel spaced out and I struggle to respond to people when they speak to me."

Barbara has learnt to recognise the tell-tale signs of her migraine and makes sure she takes her medication immediately.

"I take Naramig, which is prescribed by my doctor. I have tried a range of different medications over the years and this one seems to be doing the trick.

"I think that when I was younger my migraines were definitely hormone-related, now they are caused by lack of sleep, not eating properly and not drinking enough liquids.

"So I always try carry a drink with me and a snack of some sort."

She added: "One thing I do is place an electric heat pad on the side that is most affected. I have it as hot as it will go and I find that it really helps to ease any stiffness and pain."

Barbara feels that the Migraine Awareness Week is an excellent way to make non-sufferers realise how much a migraine can affect people in their everyday life.

"Everyone needs to realise it is not just a bad headache, it affects your vision, your balance and it can make you sick.

"Migraine can rule your life."