What Is Migraine?


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Migraine is more than “just a headache”. It is a complex neurological condition, which can affect the whole body and can result in many symptoms, sometimes without a headache at all. It can be easily overlooked or mistaken for other conditions and can affect people in different ways.

Research is continuing, but at present we do not know what causes migraine; there is no clear diagnostic test and, as yet, there is no cure. However, there are many ways to help manage the condition and lessen its impact - ultimately reducing the disruption caused to everyday life.


Migraine - The Signs
For most people the main feature of a migraine is a painful headache. However, there are other associated symptoms that can prevent an individual from continuing with daily life, and these can occur with or without the headache. If you have two or more of the following symptoms during an attack, it is probable you are suffering from migraine:

  • HeadacheIntense throbbing headache, often on one side of the head only;
  • Nausea and / or vomiting. You may also experience diarrhoea;
  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound, and / or smells;
  • Neurological symptoms that include visual disturbances such as blind spots, distorted vision, flashing lights or zigzag patterns;
  • Other common aura symptoms you may experience include: dizziness, vertigo, tingling or pins and needles in the limbs, an inability to concentrate, confusion, difficulty in speaking, paralysis or loss of consciousness (in very rare cases)

These symptoms, often called ‘aura’, can occur before an attack happens lasting from a few minutes up to an hour. However, this is usually only experienced by about 20 - 30% of people. Migraine with aura was previously known as classical migraine.

The symptoms of a migraine can vary from person to person and during different attacks. Migraine attacks may differ in their frequency, duration and severity, although, normally they last between 4 and 72 hours, and most people are symptom-free between attacks.


The five stages of an attack

Although not all migraines follow the same pattern, there generally tend to be five phases of a migraine attack:

The prodrome (warning) stage: Signs, such as mood changes, tiredness, an unusual hunger or thirst can happen up to 48 hours before an attack.

The aura: This part of the attack can last up to an hour and usually precedes the headache. Symptoms may include visual disturbances, pins and needles, confusion etc.

The main stage of the attack: A headache will often be present along with other symptoms, such as nausea and / or vomiting and can last between 4 and 72 hours.

Resolution / postdrome stage: The pain gradually eases or may disappear, but feelings of lethargy or being ‘washed-out’ may remain.

Recovery stage: It can take a few days to fully recover, or for the more lucky ones, recovery can be surprisingly quick.

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