It can be hard to know what to say to someone who’s suffering from a migraine if you’ve never experienced one yourself. The temptation to say “I know what you mean” in sympathy, when really you’re not sure that you do know, is a hard temptation to avoid. Isn’t a migraine just a really bad headache? Will taking some paracteamol help? Have you tried having a big drink of water? How do you know what’s normal and what isn’t?
Below are a few key migraine facts for anyone wanting to know more about the condition. Whether you’re a friend, a family member, or maybe you work with someone who suffers, hopefully knowing a bit more about what a migraine is will help.
- A migraine isn’t just a headache.
A migraine can also result in nausea, blurred vision, hallucinations, hot flushes, light-headedness, light, sound and also sometimes smell sensitivity. Often it’s these side effects more than the headache itself that have the biggest impact.
- Migraines have triggers.
These can include certain foods, a lack of sleep or sudden weather changes. Sometimes what may appear outwardly as strange behaviour might be an attempt by the sufferer to avoid a trigger.
- Migraines are treatable.
There are many different options for helping to lessen the effect of migraines. Not everything will work for everyone but there are plenty of things you can try.
- Migraines are not uncommon.
There are around 190, 000 migraine attacks happening every day in the UK. It’s important to know that as horrible as migraines can be there are other people out there who will have had similar experiences who might be able to offer advice and understanding.
- Migraines can (on occasion) be the sign of a deeper medical issue.
If the migraine occurs after a head injury, makes speech, coughing or movement difficult, or is accompanied by a rash, numbness, or by symptoms that are unusual, then it’s a good idea to seek medical advice. Better to be on the safe side and put minds at rest.
- Migraines don’t have a time limit.
Lengths of attack vary, on average they tend to be between 4 and 72 hours but there are exceptions. Migraines that last a week or more are not uncommon.
- Migraine attacks are not a lifetime diagnosis.
Many people find that their migraines go away naturally. A typical time to develop migraines is around puberty and then after a few years the migraine attacks fade and become less frequent by themselves, often going away entirely. It is not unusual for migraine attacks to appear and then fade after a few years whatever stage in life you develop them. Not always but there is hope.
- Women often have migraines which are linked to their menstrual cycle.
Fluctuating hormone levels can trigger migraine attacks around the time of periods. It is not PMS, it’s a recognised medical effect. Have comfort food and compassion at the ready.
- Stress can make migraines worse.
Relaxing can be one of the hardest things to do when a migraine is approaching but stressing will generally make things worse. Taking a few minutes out from the world to listen to some calming music until stress levels decrease can sometimes be more effective than taking an aspirin.
- Everyone is different.
Not all migraines are the same – attack lengths range in frequency, length and symptoms. Everyone will have their own experiences and coping methods.
Above all what migraine sufferers want (aside from the attacks to stop!) isn’t a string of helpful suggestions. Often the best thing you can do is to listen and be a sympathetic ear.