Is it a headache or is it a migraine?

It is not always obvious what sets off migraines, and once a GP has established that you are suffering from the condition, you should keep a detailed diary of the time of month, and of your environment

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AlliApp Medical Team Jul 12 · 3 mins read

Although in some relatively rare cases a migraine is not accompanied by a headache, usually it is. Typically, the pain of a migraine is throbbing and often on one side of the head. What is known as a ‘classic’ migraine is also preceded by an ‘aura’, where vision is impaired, with visual ‘light’ effects, for example:

  • seeing silvery ‘tadpoles’
  • looking into a dark tunnel with bright edges
  • blind spots, ie seeing only part of what is in your field of vision.

‘Common’ migraine is migraine that does not also have an ‘aura’. It’s accompanied by photo (light) sensitivity and made worse by physical exercise.

Sickness, light-sensitivity and tingling

Migraine also tends to be accompanied by nausea, sometimes causing vomiting. A migraine sufferer is light-sensitive and often (if it is possible) will need to lie down in a dark, quiet room until the migraine is over. Some migraines also cause tingling in the hands, limbs or face. Loud or discordant noises can bring on a migraine, or make the symptoms worse.

Not just in the head

Though it is more rare, some migraine sufferers experience other symptoms of migraine, eg ‘aura’, tingling /pins and needles, feeling sick and disorientated – but without a headache. This is known as a ‘silent’ or acephalgic migraine. Either there is no pain at all, or pain is located in the limbs, usually down one side. Feeling sick is also very common in these types of migraines, as it is in classic migraines, where pain is felt in the head.

Finding your migraine triggers

It is not always obvious what sets off migraines, and once a GP has established that you are suffering from the condition, you should keep a detailed diary of the time of month, and of your environment:

  • The weather
  • Your hormone cycle
  • Flashing, flickering lights or TV/computer screens
  • Changes in temperature
  • Loud or discordant noises
  • What medication you take

These are all potential environmental causes of migraine and should be noted. Also, keeping a record of what you eat is important. Particular foods, or combinations of food may trigger your migraines.

Each migraine may be caused by a set of factors, not just one.

Eating or drinking a certain food, eg a glass of red wine in thundery, heavy weather may have caused the condition, when wine alone would not. Or having dinner out with a flickering candle on the table then eating, eg wheat, or strong cheese, may cause a migraine. Everyone is individual as is each migraine, and it’s all about discovering your personal migraine triggers.

Keep a diary to discover your migraine triggers, then avoid them

Having a reputable, NHS endorsed health-tracker app like AlliApp on your phone can really help you to be meticulous in taking note of everything you eat and do. It will also provide you with a day-to-day Health Report to show your doctor, so you can both establish what causes your migraines. Avoidance is then key. By blowing out that romantic candle, or by covering your eyes if you are behind a car with flashing indicator lights, or by having a glass or white instead of red, especially if other ‘warning’ factors are evident, eg you are in a very hot, noisy pub – you can help yourself to hopefully stop that migraine in its tracks.

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