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A quick guide to types of migraine and symptoms

Migraines are a type of recurring headache that can be so severe as to cause you to need bed rest and time off work. About four in every 20 women get migraines, while only about one in every 20 men get migraines. That is to say women are roughly three times more likely to get migraines than men. There are different types of migraines that often have different migraine symptoms.

Types of migraines

The two most common types of migraines are:

  • Migraine with aura (classic migraine)
  • Migraine without aura (common migraine)

Aura is a term used to describe the visual or sensory symptoms that some people get when their migraine is about to happen. In general, people experience an aura between 20 minutes and one hour before the start of the headache stage of their migraine.

Other less common types of migraine include:

  • Menstrual migraines—happen often two days before women start or finish their period.
  • Abdominal migraines—happen more often in children and are associated with stomach pains.
  • Retinal migraines—cause visual changes in one eye.
  • Status migrainosus—characterized by migraines that last for a few weeks.

Symptoms of migraines

The main migraine symptoms are an intense throbbing, pulsating or pounding headache, which often affects one side or the front of the head. The pounding headache may be accompanied by nausea (feeling sick), vomiting (being sick) and an increased sensitivity to light and noise, such as seeing flickering lights, spots or lines.

Other symptoms of a migraine might include feeling hot or cold, perspiration (sweating), poor concentration, and an increased need to pass urine. You may also get pins and needles, or conversely, may get numbness. Some people also have disturbed speech and may feel tired for up to two or three days after a migraine.

Most people, however, commonly get a moderate to severe headache that can last for anything between four hours and three days. Activity like walking or climbing stairs usually make the pain worse.

Treatment options

Treatment of migraines involves controlling the symptoms and minimising their effects. The two main treatment options used to achieve this are: self-help and medication treatment.

  • Self help treatment

For self help treatment, most people find that lying down in a quiet, dark room is helpful. Sleeping (if you can) is also helpful sometimes. Other self help methods include using a cold compress like an ice pack to ease the throbbing headache, taking a hot or cold shower and applying pressure to the throbbing point on the side or front of the head or neck.

  • Medication treatment

For treatment with medication, some people find that over-the-counter pain-releif medication like aspirin, paracetamol and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Nurofen) help to relieve the pain, especially if taken them at the very first signs of an attack.

Getting help

If self help and over-the-counter medication treatments do not help relieve your migraine and its symptoms, have a chat with your GP. He or she may prescribe stronger medicines like triptans and anti-sickness medication.

If your situation still does not improve after treatment by your GP, you might be referred to a specialist migraine clinic where you will get additional help.

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