This month is Migraine Awareness Month.

In Australia, 20% of the population suffers from migraine at some stage in their lives[i]. Here are some more head aching statistics about the toll migraines take on Australia:

  • 9 million people in Australia suffer from migraine. 71% of migraine sufferers are women and 86% are of working age.
  • 6% of migraine sufferers experience chronic migraine (≥15 migraine days per month).
  • The total economic cost of migraine in Australia is $35.7 billion. This consists of:
  • $14.3 billion of health system costs;
  • $16.3 billion of productivity costs; and
  • $5.1 billion of other costs.
  • Migraine also imposes significant wellbeing costs on sufferers.[ii]

What are Migraines?

Migraines are a neurological disorder that can be disabling and distressing. Typically, it is a pulsating headache that is moderately intense and can be aggravated by physical activity. It is often associated with vomiting and nausea, as well as increased sensitivity to sound, light and even smell.

Migraines can be chronic or episodic. Episodic migraines can linger for hours. In fact, several weeks or even months may pass between migraines episodes. On the other hand, chronic migraines, occur more frequently and last longer.

Chronic migraine symptoms

A chronic migraine must involve two of the following migraine characteristics for a minimum of eight days in a month:

  • Begins or is made worse due to routine physical activity, such as walking or cleaning
  • Causes a throbbing, pulsating sensation in the side of the brain affected by the headache
  • Predominantly affects one side of the head
  • Causes moderate to severe pain

Possible triggers

People who are experiencing chronic migraines may find that specific environments, behaviours, and situations may set off a new migraine episode. Triggers may vary from person to person. For people experiencing chronic migraines, avoiding their migraine triggers may help reduce the chance of triggering another migraine episode.

Common triggers for migraines include:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Weather Caffeine use and abuse
  • Certain food and drink
  • Bad posture
  • Headache medication
  • Sensory stimulation
  • Hormones
  • Medications

Treatment

Treating chronic migraines may involve a mix of lifestyle changes, alternative remedies, and medications.

Medication

If you’re suffering from chronic migraines, your doctor will most likely prescribe you a prescription medication. Triptan medications such as eletriptan and almotriptan are acute migraine medications that are used to lessen the severity of a migraine attack in its early stages. You may even be prescribed antiseizure and antidepressant medications to reduce migraine activity.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes are another remedy to help prevent migraines. By reducing your stress levels and increasing relaxation, you may be able to help prevent migraines. Mindful meditation may be able to help.

Alternative remedies

An alternative remedy that could potentially help prevent migraines is Medical Cannabis.

A clinical trial conducted in 2017, investigated Medical Cannabis for both prevention and relief of Migraines.

The clinical trial found that Medical Cannabis was as effective as a 25 mg daily dose of amitriptyline (chlordiazepoxide), a common migraine medication. It was also found that when administered as an acute treatment, Medical Cannabis was able to reduce the intensity of pain in migraine patients by 43.5%.

Whilst the results for these patients were beneficial, it is important to note that Medical Cannabis does have potential side effects. Possible side effects include dry mouth, low blood pressure, drowsiness, increased appetite, nausea, and anxiety. More research needs to be conducted in order to prove the efficacy of cannabis for treating migraines.

When to see your doctor

If you’re experiencing migraines with increased frequency or severity, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe you medication or refer you to a neurologist or specialist. Another route is an alternative therapy with Medical Cannabis in which you would need to obtain a referral from your doctor.

A sudden or unusual migraine can potentially be a symptom of a medical emergency. If a severe and sudden migraine comes on with the following symptoms, it is imperative you seek emergency medical attention immediately:

  • numbness or tingling throughout the body
  • blurry vision, double vision, or blind spots
  • severe vomiting and nausea
  • headache after a head injury
  • personality changes, inappropriate behaviour, or trouble with speech
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • shortness of breath, especially combined with a fever, rash, and stiff neck
  • weakness, dizziness, or loss of balance

[i] https://headacheaustralia.org.au/migraine/

[ii] https://headacheaustralia.org.au/what-is-headache/prevalence-and-cost-of-headache/