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What causes migraine and how to treat it

A migraine is much more than a headache; if you have a ordinary headache you’ll normally be able to continue whatever you’re doing, but a migraine can stop you in your tracks.

A migraine can also strike at any time, leaving many sufferers unprepared to deal with an attack. Find out what triggers the painful condition and how you could head them off before they start.

Common migraine symptoms

If you have a migraine, the symptoms can be completely debilitating and may include:

  • throbbing or pulsating headache, often on one side of the head
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • nausea and dizziness
  • palpitations
  • diarrhoea
  • sweating
  • tiredness
  • aura; a sensory disturbance such as blind spots, flashing lights and zigzag patterns in front of the eyes, or numbness in the limbs.

Identify your migraine triggers

While some people might have a genetic tendency toward migraines – if one or both of their parents suffer – there also has to be a certain number of factors that will trigger an attack.

Here are the most common causes of migraines:

  • Stress. All headaches are related to stress, but it’s the release of the stress as you finally relax that causes the pain of the migraine, rather than the stress itself. This may happen at the weekend, for example, after a hectic week at work. Give lavender essential oil a go: dilute a few drops in a carrier oil and then massage into your temples for natural migraine relief.
  • Sleep disturbance. An irregular sleep pattern can often increase your chances of getting a migraine. Beware of weekend lie-ins, as they can disturb your regular sleep pattern, raising your migraine risk.
  • Hormones. Fluctuations in the female hormone oestrogen can affect your chances of getting a migraine. Menstrual migraines often occur on the two days either side of the first day of your period.
  • Dehydration and skipping meals. The longest fast is overnight, so it’s common to wake up with a migraine already started. If this happens to you, try having a small snack before going to bed. And always keep some water with you so you drink regularly.
  • Flashing or flickering lights. Light is one of the causes of migraines; it can trigger a reaction within neurons in the brain that trigger migraine. Sufferers are more sensitive to blue and red light, while flickering lights can trigger attacks.
  • Food. Some sufferers claim that certain food and drink, such as chocolate, cheese and citrus fruits, triggers their migraines. However, a migraine that is already on its way can lead to a craving for these energy-boosting foods. In this case, keeping a food diary to spot any migraine patterns can be helpful.

Finding a migraine treatment

A shocking 60 per cent of migraine sufferers never consult their GP, as they mistakenly think nothing can be done to help them. However, there are plenty of migraine treatments to try if you suffer regular migraines.

First, see your doctor to confirm the condition and rule out anything else. They may prescribe medication for you if appropriate.

You can also try a number of natural migraine remedies, such as keeping a diary to identify your triggers, migraine-fighting foods, and certain nutrients that could help prevent an attack.

Check out our headaches and migraine section for more top tips on treating and beating these painful conditions.

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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies

Migraine & Headaches