Updated 04 July 2014

Headache? Or migraine misery?

Too often, what you may think is a stress, sinus or tension headache could actually be a migraine.

Too often, what you may think is a stress, sinus or tension headache could actually be a migraine.

"If you have headaches that impact your life and they prevent you from doing your usual activities, that you miss out on family functions, that you find that you're taking an over-the-counter medication on a daily basis - you really need to see a health-care provider to be diagnosed properly so that you can be treated appropriately," says Suzanne Simons, National Headache Federation executive director.

To help you recognise whether you may suffer from migraines, try this quick quiz: Do you ever get a throbbing, one-sided headache? Do you feel sick or vomit when you have a headache? Is your headache preventing you from performing your regular activities?

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may be suffering from a migraine headache.

Some people with migraines don't even bother to see their doctor because they don't think anything can be done for them, Simons says.

"There are migraine-specific medications available [triptans, for example], and it's important that people understand that, and that they talk to their health-care provider about whether those types of medications would be appropriate for them," she says.

"If this was a disease for which there were no treatments, that would be a tragedy in and of itself. But I think the bigger tragedy is that we do have great medications out there, and people aren't getting them," she adds.

If you've gone to your doctor about your migraines and haven't been satisfied, Simons urges you to make an appointment to go back and stress how the migraines are interrupting your life. Be fully prepared with detailed information about your migraines.

That information should include how often the headaches occur, how long they last, their location, the type of pain, any factors that may trigger them, or anything that may worsen or provide relief during an attack. You also should provide details on any prescription, over-the-counter or herbal products you may be taking or have tried.

You have to be a self-advocate, Simons says. "The bottom line is that migraine is a biological disease and, as such, it should be treated as a biological disease."

Read more:
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Warm weather can trigger migraines


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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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