Migraines & Headaches

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a severe headache affecting either the left or right side of the head, that can last for up to three days, that is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to sound and light. For many people, migraines can completely prevent the ability to carry out daily activities.

Warning signs and discomfort sometimes precede the headache itself. These include visual disturbances, a tingling sensation in the face, arm or leg, involuntary muscle spasms and sensitivity to sound. Some people are able to act on the warning signs and take measures to reduce the severity and duration of the migraine.

Although some individuals will only experience one or two migraines during their lifetimes, there are others for whom it is a regular occurrence.



Some warning signs can appear up to two days before a migraine. These include changes in mood or ability to concentrate, food cravings, digestive upsets and stiffness in the neck. Those who experience migraines with an aura may also experience the following symptoms before or during the headache:

  • Visual disturbances like wavy vision, bright flashes and temporary loss of sight
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms, legs or face
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Involuntary muscle spasms or a sensation of weakness in the limbs

During the headache itself, the following symptoms are typical:

  • Extreme throbbing pain that is usually restricted to one side of the head
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision and dizziness


What causes migraines?

Although the causes of migraines are not yet fully understood, some triggers have been identified. These include the following:

  • Hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle
  • Certain foods and drinks, such as processed foods and caffeine
  • Sensory stimuli such as flashing lights, loud noises and strong smells
  • Physical and mental stress
  • Weather and barometric pressure changes
  • Interruptions to the sleep cycle caused by insomnia, jet lag and other factors


What other kinds of headache are there?

Everyone experiences non-migraine headaches periodically. In general, they are harmless and shortlived, but in some cases, they can be a warning sign of a serious medical condition. Headaches are broadly categorized into primary headaches, which are caused by problems with the pain centres in the head, and secondary headaches, which are a symptom of an underlying illness or condition.


Primary headaches include cluster headaches, tension headaches and migraines. Some primary headaches can be triggered by specific activities and lifestyle factors, like vigorous exercise, alcohol consumption and stress.


Secondary headaches can be caused by a wide variety of medical conditions, including the following:

  • Nasal congestion and sinusitis
  • Blood clots, strokes and aneurism
  • Malignant and non-malignant brain tumours
  • Dental problems or ear infections
  • Concussion
  • Dehydration
  • Overuse of pain medication
  • Influenza, meningitis or hypertension

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