Health matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.

AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, talks about migraines.

Last year 2,584 people a day in Derbyshire suffered a migraine. That’s the equivalent of 943,000 people a year. But it’s still very much a misunderstood condition, which at its worst can leave people incapacitated for 24 hours – with sufferers often reporting they have to lie down in a darkened room for two or three hours.

At their most frightening migraines cripple the ability to function causing headaches, nausea, sudden vision loss, ringing in the ears and the appearance of zigzag lines. They are considered by the World Health Organisation to be one of the 20 most disabling illnesses on the planet.

Recovery from a migraine is not quick, either, with sufferers saying they feel tired and drawn out for days afterwards. Basically it’s like having a stroke for 24 hours.

Over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol and aspirin, can ease severity of symptoms in most cases, however. Changes in diet such as chocolate, eating cheese, red wine and being in stressful situations and hormonal changes can also play their part in bringing on a migraine. So, make sure you arrange an appointment with your GP who will help you manage your condition.

Non-medical treatments, such as acupuncture and cognitive therapy, are offered to people who have persistent and frequent severe headaches.

There are two common types of migraine, ‘migraine with aura’ and ‘migraine without aura’. In the former sufferers experience a warning sign known as an ‘aura’ before the migraine begins. This is commonly a visual problem such as flashing lights or the appearance of zigzag lines in the field of vision, but other senses such as hearing and smell can be affected to, and sufferers can also report a wide variety of strange feelings and even thoughts

One of the best ways of preventing migraines is recognising the things that trigger an attack.

Keeping a migraine diary is helpful. You may find you tend to have a migraine after eating certain foods or when you are stressed. By avoiding this trigger, you can help to prevent a migraine.

More help on migranes is available from www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Migraine/Pages/Prevention.aspx.