Updated 24 February 2014

Quick migraine facts

It is hot and you are sitting in traffic. You suddenly realise you have not had your morning cup of coffee and, to top it all, you feel those flashing lights behind your eyes.

It is mid-afternoon and you are sitting in traffic. Your morning was tense, the temperature is climbing and you suddenly realise you have not had your morning cup of coffee and suddenly, to top it all, you feel those familiar flashing lights behind your eyes.

This is shortly followed by waves of nausea and a certain knowledge that you have to get home and to your dark bedroom immediately as the migraine sets in.

Most women also know, by this stage that there is little they can do but to let the attack run its course.

Possible triggers for migraines

  • Hormonal fluctuations. It often occurs when you are premenstrual.
  • Missing meals
  • The oral contraceptive pill, or hormone replacement therapy in some women.
  • Stress, whether at work or at home
  • Lack of sleep
  • Not having your regular cups of coffee and tea
  • Eating certain foods, such as cheese, chocolate, soya sauce, yeast extracts, pickled herrings, certain citrus fruits, foods that contain monosodium glutamate or artificial colourants.
  • Drinking red wine and sometimes too much coffee can also bring on an attack.

But what can you do and what can your doctor do stop these attacks from taking over your life?

What you can do

  • Reduce your stress levels and get some sleep.
  • Take a painkiller. If over-the-counter ones do not work, get a prescription from your GP for specific painkillers for migraines.
  • Sometimes it helps to take some sodium bicarbonate to load your system with carbon monoxide.
  • Avoid foodstuffs that trigger migraine attacks.
  • Change your method of contraception if you are on the Pill.
  • Eat regularly and get some exercise.
  • Stop smoking if you are a smoker.

What your doctor can do

  • Check your blood pressure and also see whether there are any problems that need to be checked out by a neurologist.
  • Prescribe the right medication
  • Send you to a dentist to find out whether you might be clenching your jaw, causing muscle spasm, that could be causing your migraines.
  • Check whether your eating habits are contributing to your problem.

Information from “Every Woman’s Health Guide” by Maryon Stewart and Dr Alan Stewart

Read more: Migraine triggers


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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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