Treatment available to help prevent migraine attacks
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Migraines are a debilitating illness which can leave people suffering for days after the initial attack, but there is quick and effective treatment available to help prevent attacks as Consultant Neurologist, Dr Rudy Capildeo explains
If you’ve ever spent most of your weekend curled up in the darkness with a blinding migraine, you’re not alone. Eight million people in the UK suffer from migraines, and they can be so debilitating that the World Health Organisation class severe migraine attacks as one of the most disabling illnesses.
The cardinal feature of a migraine is a one-sided headache, during which the patient just wants to curl up in a ball. But while the headaches themselves usually only last a few hours, the impact of a migraine can last much longer. You can feel completely washed out, maybe only functioning at 50 per cent for several days.
A migraine attack is like a box of fireworks that has gone off in your head and you’re left with what we call spreading depression, where there’s a flattened pattern of brain waves, so it can really have quite a big impact on your life.
I’ve been treating migraines since 1973, when I set up one of the country’s first migraine clinics, which is still running at Charing Cross Hospital. My patients often come to me at a stressful period in their lives, with women three times more likely to complain of migraines than men.
There are two key triggers for a migraine: excessive tiredness and post-stress. Many migraine sufferers handle stress very well, but when they wind down they get their migraine. They’ll have it on a Friday night, be in bed all day Saturday, like a bear with a sore head on Sunday and go back into work on Monday.
People often have migraines on holiday as well. And I see a number of women whose migraines start when they get home from a family holiday and they’re no longer stressed about whether everyone’s going to be well or if the hire car is about to break down.
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Sufferers have times in their lives when they are more sensitive to migraines – often due to hormonal changes – and it’s during these periods that other triggers such as alcohol or exercise are more likely to cause the headaches.
I always advise migraine sufferers to keep a simple diary: recording the date, time and duration of the migraine, the symptoms, any medication they have taken and the severity of the headache. When you’re getting two severe migraines a month or milder headaches up to six times in the same period, it’s a good idea to see a consultant.
The great news is, with medical help, you don’t have to continue to suffer. Migraines are getting ever-easier to treat, with the price of medication dropping dramatically over the past few months, and most patients can be clear of migraines in six weeks.
A few years ago, I ran a study of around 400 patients who had been on preventative anti-migraine medication three to five years’ previously, and 85 per cent were still well – so it’s well worth a consultation if migraines are affecting your life.
About Dr Rudy Capildeo
Consultant neurologist Dr Rudy Capildeo FRCP has more than 30 years’ experience in neurology, including headaches and migraines, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, sleep disorders, motor neurone disease, brain tumours, head injuries and more. Those interested in booking a private consultation are invited to ask their GP for a referral. For more advice, including about self-pay payment options, please visit nuffieldhealth.com/hospitals/bournemouth or call 01202 702830.
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