Migraine is a misunderstood condition. Migraine is a special and very specific type of headache. But many people think that all headaches are migraines; that migraine and headache are the same thing. This is not so.

Migraines are recurring headaches that often involve one side of the head, are quite severe, are often associated with nausea and visual changes (e.g. sensitivity to light). Migraines may be preceded by an “aura” (visual changes before the actual attack). Some patients can identify triggers (e.g. certain foods, fatigue) that bring-on attacks but this is highly variable and difficult to predict.

Migraines affect about 15% of the population, being more common in women than men. There is a genetic/inherited element in migraine, with some two-thirds of patients having affected family members. The exact cause is not known but seems to involve blood-flow changes and hormonal changes (more common in boys and adult women, uncommon during pregnancy, less common after menopause).

Migraine cannot be cured but can be treated. Treatment usually involves painkillers, nausea treatments, special migraine medications (need to be taken early in an attack) as well as preventive medication that reduce the frequency of attacks. Treatment is generally quite effective for some 75% of patients although a complete cure or a perfect treatment remains elusive for some. Migraine is a significant cause of lost productivity and impaired quality of life.

Migraine is an important condition that causes significant suffering. It is not curable but it is treatable in most cases. The key thing is to understand that migraine is a unique and special condition, quite different to all other types of headache. Migraine needs specific treatment, which starts with a clear understanding of what it is.