Migraines are often misunderstood or dismissed as “just a headache”. Yet they have the capacity to disrupt lives, destroy relationships and wreck careers.
Up until recently the only treatment for chronic migraine was powerful drugs, which often cause drowsiness and mood changes.
However researchers in America discovered that injecting Botulinum toxin (Botox) in certain sites around the head is one of the most effective ways of treating chronic migraine. There are few side effects other than the loss of facial expression lines – which some people believe makes you look younger.
One man who regularly treats migraine sufferers is Dr Oliver Lily, a leading consultant neurologist at Spire Leeds Hospital and Leeds General Infirmary. He is well aware of the devastation chronic migraines can cause to lives.
Over the years Dr Lily has helped migraine sufferers control and defeat their illness, including a young academy footballer who always developed a migraine at half-time but now plays professionally; an A-level student who dropped out of school due to migraine who is now at university; a self-employed lorry driver who used to go temporarily blind on the motorway and nearly lost his business; and a nursing student who had to repeat a year due to migraines but is now a midwife.
“Treating migraine is rewarding because often you can give desperate people their lives back,” said Dr Lily.
Migraine is the third most common illness worldwide affecting about 15 per cent of the world’s population.
It is one of the most common causes of lost workdays in the UK and causes more disability than any other neurological disorder.
About two per cent of the population suffer chronic migraine, which often results in constant migraine symptoms that never disappear. This can go on for days, months, even years wrecking careers relationships and lives.
“Effective treatments are available but many migraine sufferers don’t take advantage of them because they don’t seek help or they mistakenly believe they are just suffering from regular headaches,” said Dr Lily, who studied medicine at Leeds Medical School.
He suffers from migraines himself, as does his mother and two of his four daughters.
“The most common treatment for migraine relief is a class of drugs called triptans.
“When taken at the first sign of migraine, they can relieve pain, nausea and light sensitivity. Other medications work in advance to prevent migraines such as beta-blockers.
“Preventative medicines can reduce frequency for some people who get them regularly,” he added.
SYMPTOMS OF A COMPLEX CONDITION
Migraine is a complex condition with a wide variety of symptoms.
For many people the main feature is a painful headache.
Other symptoms include disturbed vision, sensitivity to light, sound and smells, feeling sick and vomiting.
Migraine attacks can be very frightening and may result in you having to lie still for several hours.
The symptoms will vary from person to person and individuals may have different symptoms during different attacks.