Common ailments


In the past few weeks I have twice suffered an extremely painful and strange headache. On both occasions, it started with a flashing in my right eye, as though I’d been looking at a bright light for too long. My vision became temporarily blurred and I was then left with a debilitating headache on one side of my head which made me feel dizzy and nauseous. What could this be?

It sounds as though you may have suffered a migraine attack. A migraine is a severe headache, felt as a throbbing pain at the front or side of the head. It is a common health condition and those who suffer with frequent migraine headaches will tell you that they can severely affect your quality of life and stop you carrying out your normal daily activities.

Around one in three people with migraines have temporary warning symptoms, known as aura, before a migraine. The flashing lights and blurred vision you describe are typical warning symptoms. Others can include visual problems such as seeing zigzag patterns or blind spots, dizziness, nausea, difficulty speaking, or a numb or tingling sensation like pins and needles, which usually starts in one hand and moves up your arm.

The exact cause of migraines is not known but they are thought to be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. Some people find their migraine attacks are associated with certain triggers, which can include starting their period, stress, tiredness and certain foods or drinks. If you haven’t suffered with migraines in the past, then it may be that something specific has triggered your recent attacks, in which case you can try to avoid that trigger.

If you do suffer another attack, you may find that lying in a darkened room helps. Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help if taken at the first signs of a migraine attack. If you find that ordinary painkillers do not relieve your symptoms or if the symptoms are stopping you doing your everyday tasks or work, then you should make an appointment to see your GP. Your GP will check that your symptoms are typical of a migraine and may recommend taking a type of medication known as a triptan in addition to or instead of your painkillers. Triptan medicines are thought to work by reversing the changes in the brain that may cause migraines. Also, if your migraines are very frequent and disruptive to your life then there are some medicines you can take every day to prevent attacks occurring.

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