Health / 07.08.2015

Could you be giving yourself a migraine?

By Roisin Dervish-O'Kane
A leading neurologist untangles what's going on behind all the burning and dizziness


As anyone who has ever had their day/evening/weekend marred by a crippling one will attest – migraines can be a total life ruiner. And you’ve got back up – even the World Health Organisation has ranked them among the 20 most disabling conditions.

But what’s causing them? And how can you tell the difference between a full-blown M-word and a really terrible headache? We put your (literally) burning questions to the experts.

Why do I have a headache?
‘Most headaches are entirely benign, but other causes include inflammation or infection of any of the structures in the head, such as the ear, tooth or gums, blood vessel problems or musculoskeletal causes,’ says Dr Guy Leschziner, Consultant Neurologist at London Bridge Hospital.

Read more: The Healthy guide to headaches

How do I know if it’s a migraine?
‘A migraine has particular features. It is typically a recurrent headache, preceded by visual problems such as flashing lights, zigzag lines or blind spots,’ he explains. Ouch.

Am I giving myself a migraine?
‘The cause of migraine is likely to be genetic, as it often runs in families,’ says Dr. Leschziner. ‘However, some people link attacks with cheese, red wine or citrus fruit. Hormonal changes, too little or too much sleep, and stress are associated as well,’ he adds.

Read more: 7 reasons you need to address your stress

Migraine Action suggests it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat it, that has an impact. A new study found that when the level of sugar in the blood gets too low, the blood flow to the brain increases. Nerve tissues then become more sensitive to the dilated blood vessels and this can trigger a migraine.

Read more: Is diabetes your diet’s fault?

‘People underestimate the importance of eating regularly,’ adds nutritionist Amanda Ursell. ‘If your blood sugar levels are going up and down it could certainly set off a migraine. So snack on healthy foods and never miss a meal.’

If you’re susceptible to migraines, she recommends leaving no longer than four hours between food during the day and 12 hours at night.

I’ve got a migraine. Now what?
‘If you feel the headache coming on, take a painkiller. It is easier to stop a migraine developing than it is to treat once established,’ says Dr. Leschziner. But don’t treat this as a long-term strategy. ‘Taking painkillers regularly in the long run can result in medication-overuse headache, so if the migraines are very frequent or very debilitating, preventative treatment is recommended instead,’ says Dr Leschziner.

‘This usually involves regular medication but some patients find treatments helpful, such as botulinum toxic injections to the scalp, or blocking nerves by injections of local anesthetic,’ he explains.

Putting up with regular attacks? ‘Don’t be tempted to keep on popping painkillers and talk to your doctor about other options,’ he suggests. Sleep often improves migraine symptoms, so if nothing is working, call it a day and try to get some shut-eye.

What is your failsafe technique for dealing with migraines? Tweet and tell us @healthymag or share your stories on our Facebook page.

London Bridge Hospital houses some of the world’s most respected doctors, consultants and surgeons from the leading teaching hospitals. For more information on migraines or to book a consultation, please visit: or call 0844 800 0696


Could you be giving yourself a migraine?
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Could you be giving yourself a migraine?
Migraines are the worst - they've even made the WHO's 25 most disabling conditions. Don't risk giving yourself a migraine with our expert prevention tips
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