One in 10 Australians gets migraines. However, up to 50% of sufferers are undiagnosed and are not getting the effective treatment which is now available.
Migraine is a moderate to severe headache lasting 4–72 hours. The pain is often throbbing and usually occurs on one side of the head. It is worse with movement and often comes with nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light or noise.
In one third of cases there are warning symptoms (‘aura’) before the headache such as seeing bright zigzag lines or flashing lights or feeling pins and needles.
Episodes are often triggered by stress, alcohol, certain foods, bright light, fatigue and changing hormone levels.
How to treat a migraine
Treat your migraine as early as possible for the best results. Once it becomes established, medication is poorly absorbed from the stomach and tablets do not work well.
- Headache. Aspirin, paracetamol or anti-inflammatory tablets are sufficient in some cases. Codeine is widely used but is lately being discouraged. It is often ineffective and can cause nausea and further headaches.
If painkillers don’t work, ‘triptan’ tablets may be prescribed in suitable patients and are effective in most cases. If vomiting is a problem triptans can also be taken in other forms, such as wafers that melt on your tongue, injections and nasal sprays.
Ergot preparations are an alternative and are available as a tablet compounded by a pharmacist, suppository or injection.
- Vomiting. Specific medication for nausea and vomiting is available on script and can be taken by tablet, injection or suppository.
- Rest. If initial treatment fails, rest in a quiet, dark room and avoid movement.
Beware of too much medication
It is easy to gradually increase your use of pain medication. Taking any of the headache treatments too often (10 or more days per month) can actually cause persistent near-daily headaches (‘medication overuse headaches’) that are often mistaken for migraines. They only improve when the medication stops.
How to prevent migraine
Try to avoid your triggers if possible. Lifestyle changes such as relaxation exercises, regular sleep and reduced caffeine can help.
Preventative medication is recommended if you have more than 2 or 3 attacks per month. This involves taking tablets every day even when you are well and is usually effective in reducing the number of headaches.
Women who get migraines before periods can take medication during the premenstrual week to prevent attacks.
See your doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to start a treatment plan. For more information, go to Headache Australia.
- Please note this information was correct at time of publication.
- For up to date information, speak to your doctor.