Heads up…It’s almost Migraine Awareness Week

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Medical Specialists® Pharmacy discuss Migraine Awareness Week, which fittingly falls within September's Pain Awareness Month

migraine awareness week
Migraine is actually the most common neurological condition within the developed world and attacks are significantly more intense than a common headache.

In just a few days’ time marks the beginning of the annual Migraine Awareness Week, running this year from 6 - 12 September. As a provider of numerous migraine treatments and migraine prevention medicines, Medical Specialists® Pharmacy are proudly supporting the awareness week.

The week is organised by the national charity Migraine Action, which, for more than 50 years, has been offering their support to those affected by migraine, whether this be individuals, families, employers, employees and medical professionals.

Migraine is a serious public health issue not always fully understood by those not suffering with this debilitating long-term condition, which affects an estimated 1 in 7 people. That equates to around eight million people in just the United Kingdom alone, making migraine a more prevalent health problem than asthma, diabetes and epilepsy combined.

Health bodies recognise migraine as one of the primary disabling lifetime health problems, but despite this, general public awareness and understanding of it is still at a relatively low level.

The first question people tend to ask about migraine is…what is it? The condition is often confused with a regular headache and because the intense and painful feeling that accompanies a migraine attack is not a symptom on the external body, only fellow sufferers will usually appreciate the full devastating effect of migraine.

There are usually five stages of a migraine attack, but not everybody will experience all five. They are:

1. ‘Prodromal’ (pre-headache) stage. As well as physical symptoms such as ache and pains for hours or days prior to the migraine attack, some people may notice a change in mood, a drop in energy levels, appetite and behaviour change.

2. Aura. Some people experience a sensation, or aura, just before their migraine starts. They are neurological interruptions such as seeing flashes of light or blind spots, temporary blindness and seeing things almost like you are looking through a broken mirror. The aura stage usually lasts from anywhere between 15 minutes and an hour.

3. Headache stage. Normally a pulsating or throbbing pain that is on one particular side of the head. You will probably feel queasy and sick, followed by vomiting. There will be an increased sensitivity to bright light and loud sounds, which is why many people with migraine want to rest in a quiet, dark room. This stage can vary in length from 4 to 72 hours.

4. Resolution stage. Here the migraine is fading slowly but surely. If you do have a migraine, at this point you might find your headache comes to an abrupt end after you have vomited, and sleep can help to relieve the symptoms.

5. ‘Postdromal’ or recovery phase. There could be a feeling of exhaustion and weakness afterwards.

Migraine is actually the most common neurological condition within the developed world and attacks are significantly more intense than a common headache, with no definitive known cause of cure, although the cause is generally thought to be connected with changes to chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, which reduces in quantity during a migraine.

With an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 12 men in the UK affected by migraines on a regular basis, this means around 15% of adults in the UK are suffering.

Migraine attacks can strike people for years during their lifetime, majorly impacting the sufferer’s work life, family life, and social lives, often leaving the person afflicted feeling alone and isolated – but this needs to change.

There are migraine treatments available from Medical Specialists® that can help to minimise the impact the condition has on everyday life.

The first port of call from migraine sufferers should be preventing the attack from happening by recognising the triggers and times the attacks usually occur, such as starting to feel unwell a day or two prior to an attack.

Propranolol is a beta blocker prescription drug which is used to prevent migraines, although it is not fully understood how propranolol works in this area. Beta blockers work by blocking beta receptors which are found in the heart. When they are blocked by propranolol the heart is made to beat more slowly and with less force. This reduces the pressure at which the blood is pumped out of the heart and around the body to the brain, where the blood vessels contract and prevent the migraine starting.

There are also treatments that can ease the symptoms of a migraine attack and maybe even prevent of relieve further symptoms.

The first goes by the name of Sumatriptan; the active ingredient in over-the-counter Imigran Recovery tablets and prescription-only Imigran nasal spray.

Imigran Recovery tablets begin to relieve migraine headache in a mere 30 minutes, though some people find nasal sprays work faster and easier to use when feeling sick. Known as a type of medicine called ‘triptans’, Sumatriptan has been used for a number of decades by people around the world and is deemed a safe medication, with Imigran being the most widely used triptan.

As mentioned earlier, the causes of migraine attacks are not fully established, but it is often thought the attacks occur when blood vessels start to widen in the brain, causing the throbbing pain that sufferers are all too familiar with. Sumatriptan helps to narrow the blood vessels in the brain by imitating the action of serotonin and stimulating the serotonin receptors in the brain, thereby stopping the transmission of pain signals and relieving the pain.

Another commonly prescribed migraine treatment is Rizatriptan; the active ingredient in both Maxalt tablets and Maxalt Melt tablets. Both are prescription-only, or obtainable through an online consultation with a Medical Specialists GMC-registered doctor. Like Imigran, Maxalt belongs to a medicine called a serotonin (or 5HT) agonist and again targets the serotonin receptors in the brain.

Maxalt Melt tablets dissolve on the tongue in your saliva and therefore do not require a drink of water when taking them. Those who typically feel sick or vomit when experiencing a migraine attack and thus cannot drink are especially suited to Maxalt melts, in addition to people unable to swallow normal tablets.

Click here for more information on how to get involved with Migraine Awareness Week with the Migraine Trust charity, and here for further information provided by Migraine Action about coping with migraine, such as migraine at the workplace and an extensive young person’s guide to migraine.

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David Bailey

Mark Riley
Medical Specialists Pharmacy
since: 10/2012
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