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Migraine and headache treatment

We take a look at the different types of migraines and headaches and what their key symptoms are

Young woman with a headache is about to start migraine treatment

Migraines are common and can cause challenges for many people in their everyday lives. According to the NHS, around 10 million people experience migraines in the UK, leading to three million workdays lost every year because of this.

If you know someone who suffers with migraines, or suffer with them yourself, then understanding which type of migraine you are experiencing can help you find the right treatment and live life to its fullest. Although many people get migraines, they are usually very treatable.

Migraines can often be confused with a headache but they can be much more painful than a standard headache. If you’re having a migraine, you can experience:

  • Tiredness
  • Food cravings
  • Feeling thirsty
  • Mood swings
  • A stiff neck
  • A more frequent urge to go to the toilet

Depending on the type of migraine you are experiencing you may also:

  • Have difficulty speaking
  • Feel dizzy
  • Feel a numbness or tingling sensation in your body
  • See flashing lights across your vision (also known as an aura)

Although headaches and migraines share similarities, it is important to understand that they are two separate issues.

While headaches cause pain in the head, upper neck or face they can be mild and only happen occasionally. A migraine however, can be incredibly painful and cause someone to experience symptoms that can drastically affect day to day like e.g. dizziness and auras.

In this next section we will take a look at the different types of migraines, their related symptoms and most importantly, the different treatments available for each of them.

It is important to remember that if you are experiencing frequent migraines or feel that a migraine is causing you concern, you should always reach out to your local healthcare provider for professional advice.

A migraine with aura is a type of migraine where you experience flashing lights or even a blind spot in your vision before the migraine starts. They can act as a warning sign to people who experience them that a migraine is coming but the severity of the headache will be unknown. Occasionally, some people may experience an aura but never have a headache. It depends on the person.

Auras can last from around five minutes to one hour long and although most auras are linked to people’s vision, some people may also feel their speech is affected. Rarely, a person may also feel faint or disorientated while experiencing an aura.

Symptoms can include:

  • Flashing plights
  • Spots, colours or patterns may appear
  • Blind spots
  • Temporary blindness
  • Feeling dizzy or off balance
  • A tingling sensation in parts of your body
  • Muscle weakness

There are also other specific headaches that include an aura. These include:

Migraine with brainstem aura

According to Migraine Trust, a brainstem aura occurs in around one in 10 people who experience migraines with aura. Alongside experiencing a migraine and aura a person suffering from brainstem aura will experience at least two of the following neurological symptoms:

  • Slurring of speech (dysarthria)
  • A sensation of movement (vertigo)
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Double vision (diplopia)
  • Unsteadiness when walking as if drunk (ataxia)
  • Temporary decreased consciousness (syncope)
  • Pins and needles and /or numbness affecting both arms and/or legs
  • Changes in eyesight in both eyes such as patterns or flashing lights

Migraine with brainstem aura mostly occurs in adults, although anyone at any age can experience them. Your healthcare professional may order tests including MRI scans to rule out other causes.

This type of migraine is the most common. If you experience a migraine without an aura it simply means that you get no warning signs that a migraine is about to occur.

During this type of migraine you may feel pain on one side of your head. This pain can often feel like a throbbing pain which gets worse if you move around to the point where you don’t feel you can do your usual activities. You may also feel nauseous or be sick or feel an increased sensitivity to the lights and sounds around you.

This type of migraine can be described as having regular headaches for over half the days of a month and for multiple months one after the other.

Specifically, you could be classed as suffering from chronic migraine if you have a headache on at least 15 days of a month, of which eight or more of these days you would experience migraine symptoms on. Symptoms of a chronic migraine can include:

  • Feeling or being sick
  • Frequent headaches
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sounds
  • Aura
  • Feeling dizzy or experiencing vertigo

A vestibular migraine is a type of migraine where you experience dizziness or balance problems, making it difficult to feel stable when stood up or whilst walking around. Some people who suffer with this can feel like the room is spinning, while for others the room can feel like it is swaying even though everything is still.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Feeling or being sick
  • Sensitivity to smells, touch, light, sound or movement
  • Feeling like the room you are in is moving when everything is actually stationary

This kind of migraine can be very debilitating and can often be worse when you stand or lie in a certain position i.e. if you lie down this may trigger the room to feel like it is spinning.

An abdominal migraine is often diagnosed in children but it can also affect some adults. Usually this only affects children when they are younger and they often ‘grow out’ of this type of migraine as they get older. However, it can also develop into migraines as an adult as they grow up.

It isn’t fully understood why abdominal migraines affect certain people.

Symptoms include:

  • Regular and often severe stomach pain that can last from two to 72 hours
  • Feeling or being sick during attacks
  • Feeling normal and experiencing no pain or headaches between the attacks

A hemiplegic migraine is a type of migraine that causes the person suffering to experience a short term weakness on one side of their body during their migraine attack. The entomology of the word ‘hemiplegic’ literally means paralysis happening on one side of the body.

With a hemiplegic migraine you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Speaking difficulties such as slurring words when speaking
  • A negative effect on your ability to read and write, understand language or being able to listen to others
  • Seeing visual disturbances with your eyes such as sparkles, zig-zags or coloured spots
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Ringing in your ears or hearing problems
  • Confusion

This type of migraine can be very distressing to experience and can often be mistaken for a stroke. Symptoms can last from a few hours to a few days but usually don’t last longer than 24 hours. This type of migraine can be inherited if there is a family history of the condition but this is not always the case.

As a woman’s hormones fluctuate during her cycle, it can cause menstrual migraines that occur just before or during a period.

Unfortunately, these migraines can often be severe and are less responsive to medication. It is thought that as oestrogen levels drop, this can trigger the migraine and that women with heavy periods are more susceptible to this.

Migraines themselves don’t usually mean there’s any underlying problem and most will pass within a few hours. However, if you are experiencing very painful migraines or notice that they are becoming more frequent, then reaching out to your local healthcare professional for support is advisable.

In certain cases you may need urgent support, such as if your migraine lasts over 72 hours, your aura symptoms last longer than an hour at one time or if you are pregnant or have just given birth. In these cases, you can ask for an urgent GP appointment or call 111 to get advice.

In rare cases of emergency, dial 999 if you are suffering from any of the following symptoms:

  • Your headache comes on suddenly and is extremely painful
  • If during your migraine you have problems speaking or remembering things
  • If you lose your vision or have blurred or double vision
  • If you feel drowsy or confused
  • If you have a seizure or fit
  • If you have a very high temperature and symptoms of meningitis
  • If you cannot move or have weakness in the arms or legs on one side of your body, or one side of your face

At Circle Health Group, we have the experience and expertise to ensure the best possible care and outcome for our patients. As a patient with Circle Health Group, you can expect the highest standards of care including:

  • Flexible appointment times and locations that are convenient for you
  • The freedom to choose which hospital and consultant suit your needs
  • Personalised, consultant-led treatment plans tailored to your individual needs
  • Comfortable and safe private facilities maintained by expert multidisciplinary teams
  • Private ensuite rooms as standard
  • A range of delicious healthy meals
  • Affordable, fixed-price packages with aftercare included
  • Flexible payment options to help you spread the cost of your care

If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about migraine and headache treatment, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly.

Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in March 2024. Next review due March 2027.

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