Headaches and Migraine
Headaches / Migraine
Most headaches are not caused by serious or sinister conditions. Many people treat themselves with simple painkillers, drinking extra water, and having a rest, or simply by waiting for the headache to go away. Most headaches go away by themselves.
There are many types of headaches – Tension headaches, Migraines, Cluster headaches, exertional headaches to name a few. (Use this link as a hyperlink to “types of headaches” above)
When should I be worried about a headache?
Sometimes headaches need further investigation, to make sure it's nothing serious.
Contact your doctor if:
- You have had a significant head injury in the previous three months.
- Your headaches are worsening and accompanied by high temperature (fever).
- Your headaches start extremely suddenly.
- You have developed problems with speech and balance as well as headache.
- You have developed problems with your memory or changes in your behaviour or personality as well as headache.
- You are confused or muddled with your headache.
- Your headache started when you coughed, sneezed or strained.
- Your headache is worse when you sit or stand.
- Your headache is associated with red or painful eyes.
- Your headaches are not like anything you have ever experienced before.
- You have unexplained vomiting with the headache.
- You have low immunity - for example, if you have HIV, or are on oral steroid medication or immune suppressing drugs.
- You have or have had a type of cancer that can spread through the body.
- You have an unremitting morning headache which is present for more than three days or is getting gradually worse.
Headaches are less likely to occur in those who:
- Manage their stress levels well.
- Eat a balanced, regular diet.
- Take balanced regular exercise.
- Pay attention to posture and core muscles.
- Sleep on two pillows or fewer.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Have plenty of sleep.
Anything that you can do to improve any of these areas of your life will improve your health and well-being and reduce the number of headaches you experience.
Migraine is a much mis-understood and under-diagnosed condition affecting approximately 10-12% of the population of Ireland. It is a neurological condition characterised by severe, throbbing, one-sided headache and is often accompanied by visual distortions, nausea, vomiting, intolerance to noise and light and in rare cases, even paralysis and loss of consciousness.
The cause of migraine
The exact cause of migraine is as yet unknown. It is clear however that a number of parts of the body including the central nervous system, the brain, the gastrointestinal tract and blood vessels combine to bring about an attack.
The migraine attack
- Combination of Trigger factors
- Prodromal or Warning Phase (Tiredness, Yawning, Mood changes, Food
- Cravings, increased awareness of light, noise and smells)
- The Aura (Visual distortions, hearing or speech problems, disorientation. About 20 to 30% of sufferers experience aura)
- Headache Phase (accompanied by sensitivity to light, noise and smells)
- Resolution Phase (easing of the Headache)
- Postdromal or Recovery State (Similar to the Prodromal stage. May take hours or even days to fully recover)
10 steps in managing your migraine
Migraine is not life threatening, but it can destroy the quality of your life if you let it. The ultimate goal of migraine management is to minimise disruption to your normal life allowing you to return to normal activity as soon as possible. Here are 10 tips that may help you to manage your migraine.
1 Assume responsibility
The very first thing that you must recognise is that ultimately, migraine is your own responsibility.
2 Utilise your GP
Visit your GP or Student Health Centre to confirm the diagnosis of migraine and also to ensure that there are no other conditions present such as Chronic Daily Headache.
3 Avoid your trigger factors
Certain foods, drinks, situations or environmental conditions may precipitate or bring on a migraine. It is important to recognise that everyone's trigger factors are highly individual and that even the most common ones may not be detrimental to you at all.
Foods such as cheese and chocolate are the most commonly blamed. Remember that anything can be a trigger if you are susceptible to it.
- Travel (motion sickness)
- Sleep related triggers a sleep deprivation or disturbance, irregular sleeping patterns, to much sleep
- Changes in routine
- Increases in stress or anxiety levels
- Foods and Beverages: Alcohol, caffeine, cheese, chocolate, nuts, wheat and fatty foods.
- Lack of food, delayed meals and irregular eating patterns
- Hormonal change in women.
- Environmental Triggers: Smoke, strong smells, loud noise, bright, irregular or flickering lights.
- Exercise: too much exercise may act as a trigger
- Oral Contraceptives
- Smoking or passive smoking
- Long periods in front of a computer screen
- Head, neck or back injury, high blood pressure and other physiological irregularities
4 Keep a diary
The Migraine Diary is a simple but effective way of managing your migraine. Therefore when you get an attack, it is important to be able to go back and record the main events of the previous 72 hours. The diary will also act to show your doctor how much an impact that Migraine has on your life.
5 Change your lifestyle
High-stress lifestyles are there day becoming the norm. Stress management techniques such as biofeedback, relaxation therapy, meditation and breathing exercise can reduce your chances of getting an attack and will improve your general well being as well. Finding your stressors is half the battle. Stress can be improved by managing your time properly, taking proper breaks and by eliminating unrealistic targets.
6 Self Help Measures
- Sleep is still one of the best ways to get through an attack, though not always possible
- Lying motionless in a quiet dark room for a period is normally helpful
- Acupressure and self-massage are simple techniques that you can learn which may also be helpful when applied to the head
- Ice treatment is an ancient therapy that is still used
- Likewise, certain suffers find that heat can be very beneficial
- Migraine Products, special pillows, magnets, ice-packs, electro-stimulation devices etc
7 Be Prepared
- Bring medication with you on all journeys
- Always have a back-up plan in case of attack
8 Know the warning signs
The first stage of a migraine attack may last for several hours or even days. If you can recognise some of your symptoms as being the precursor to an attack, then you can take action to abort it.
Regular aerobic exercise helps to reduce the severity of a migraine attack. Exercising will increase oxygen to the brain and, is also responsible for stimulating chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine and the body's natural painkillers, endorphins. A healthy mind and body will also prepare you to better deal with a migraine attack. Be careful when exercising though, sudden excessive or vigorous exercise can be a migraine trigger, as can dehydration and low blood sugar levels as a consequence of exercise.
10 Contact Student Health Services or the Migraine Association.
There is never a good reason to suffer in silence.
DCU Student Health Services 7005143/5766
Migraine Association - Call 01 894 1280 or 01 894 1281