According to new research by MigraHerb, more than 11.3 million UK adults say they have experienced a migraine headache at some time.
Of those migraine sufferers, 47% say that it is usually triggered by stress, 38% tiredness and 28% simply don’t know why they suddenly get a migraine attack.
Migraine is globally thought to be as the third most common disorder to affect individuals and the seventh highest cause of disability.
In the EU, it has been estimated that the average annual direct and indirect cost of migraine per person to be €1,222 – and a total annual cost for the €111 billion for adults aged 18 to 65 years. In the US, the annual cost per person is estimated to be $1,757 for episodic migraine and $7,750 for chronic migraine.
But what is a migraine?
“Migraines are more than just a headache and range from being moderate to severe,” says clinical pharmacist Mike Wakeman. “They tend to last longer than a normal headache, with the average time being between two and 72 hours.
“As well as a pounding pain in the head, migraine symptoms include sensitivity to light, a feeling of nausea or actual vomiting, and experiencing ‘flashing lights’ before the eyes. Always unpleasant, bad migraines can be really debilitating.”
What causes a migraine?
“Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer and no reliable diagnostic test to predict if you will become a migraine sufferer or when an attack might strike, says Dr Wakeman. “Sadly, there is no current cure either.
“Research into the causes however, has identified a number of migraine triggers which can vary from person to person.
“There are several triggers, some more common than others. However, they can be broadly split into the following categories:
- Environmental factors – “Bright lights or ones that flicker and flash are common triggers, as are loud environments or la lot of noise. Intense, penetrating smells or smoke-filled rooms are other triggers. Many sufferers also report that changes in climate or a change in humidity and temperature due to unsettled weather can bring on an attack. This is thought to be due to a sensitivity in sufferers to the change in pressure.”
- Emotional imbalance/stress – “Migraine sufferers often report getting a migraine in stressful times when they are worried or tense or feeling particularly angry. Conversely, excitement can also lead to a migraine attack.”
- Foods – “Many migraine sufferers find specific foods can trigger an attack. The most common foods are cheese, chocolate and coffee. However, there are several others including citrus fruits, onions, seafood and wheat.”
- Physical stress – “This is most often associated with over-tiredness from late nights, a change in sleeping patterns, or over-exertion. Many sufferers report migraines when travelling which is not surprising as long-haul travel often involves the other symptoms mentioned!”
- Hormonal matters – “PMS and menstruation increase the risk of an attack in sufferers as do other hormonal changes that occur during puberty, pregnancy and menopause.”
“Other more isolated migraine triggers include toothache, sinusitis and eye strain.”
Are there any self-help measures for migraine?
“The simple answer is yes. The first thing to do is to keep a diary to find out if there are any recurring triggers. Note down what you eat, your feelings, how well you are sleeping, the weather, where you are in your menstrual cycle (if relevant), skipped meals, travel, how tired you are and so on. If the same triggers crop up before each attack you will know what to avoid. You should also keep stress levels under control, get plenty of sleep and make time for relaxation.
“There is also a natural remedy that may help keep migraine attacks at bay. The herb Feverfew has been used for headaches since at least the 17th Century when the famous herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote how ‘it’s is very effectual for all pains in the head’ and it’s said to provide ‘mild and transient’ benefits resulting in fewer migraine headaches per month. Feverfew also appears to block the release of histamine and helps widen blood vessels, helping to reduce the severity of migraine attacks.
“There are now more than 70 studies evaluating the efficacy of Feverfew, with the most recent reporting a 40% reduction rate in migraine frequency each month. This formed part of a recent review that evaluated nearly 600 patients which concluded that the use of feverfew appears to be well tolerated and no major safety issues have been reported. A licensed version of Feverfew is available on the high street in the form of MigraHerb Migraine Relief – containing 100 mg of Feverfew herb per daily capsule.”