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Migraine

A boy sitting on a bed with his head in his hands and lightning bolts overlayed

Migraine is a vicious sort of headache that you can't just zap with ordinary paracetamol. It is usually much worse than a normal headache and comes on one side of your head - or at the front. Some people with migraine know when they are about to get one because they have a particular sensation - called an aura. This can be seeing flashing lights or wiggly lines in front of their eyes, pain in the neck or a tingling in the hands. The aura starts between 15 mins and and hour before the headache. The headache then comes on. Sometimes people feel sick with it. Others get an increased sensitivity to sound or light or smells. The headache can last anything between 3 hours and 3 days . You do not have to have an aura to have a migraine.

What causes it?

The exact mechanism is not fully understood but it is thought to be due to a change in level of one of the chemicals in your brain - serotonin. This in turn causes the blood vessels in your brain to narrow (causing the aura) and then widen again (causing the headache). It is the spasm of the vessels that causes the migraine.

Who gets it?

Migraines run in families - so if your mum or dad gets them then you are a bit more likely to get them than other people. They are more common in girls. We know certain things bring them on - these can be either psychological or physical. Psychological causes include stress, (maybe caused by exams, course work or your parents), depression or even excitement. But stress is the most likely cause. Physical causes include tiredness, change in your sleep pattern, your period, not drinking anough water and eating certain foods - all beginning with C! These are cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons etc) and caffeine (so don't drink coke or coffee if you think these are causing you to have migraines).

What can you do about it?

The best thing to do is to prevent the migraine happening . Not always easy but a good way is to keep a headache diary - of the day and time you got your headache, what it was like, what happened in the hours before the headache (or the day of the headache)/what you ate, whether you had an aura and what you did to stop the headache. This will give you a good idea of what may be triggering your migraine.

Then you have to make changes to try and prevent it. Best to change one thing at a time otherwise you don't know what is working.

Once you get your headache lying down in a dark room can help. Medicines also help - paracetamol is worth trying or there are other tablets that you can take to prevent the headache - you need to see your doctor for these.