What is migraine and who gets it?

What is migraine?

Migraine is a long-term health condition. It’s very common and affects one in seven people. People who have migraine have episodes called migraine attacks. Lots of people think migraine attacks are just a headache, but they can come with lots of different feelings in addition to a painful headache.

The symptoms of a migraine attack include:

  • Head pain, often on one side of the head
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling weak or dizzy
  • Sensitivity to light, sound and smells
  • Sensory changes like seeing bright spots, zigzag lines or blind spots

Different people experience different symptoms and you might not have all the symptoms listed here. A migraine attack usually lasts between four hours and three days. People with migraine will feel normal between their migraine attacks.

Different people have different patterns to their migraine attacks. For example, you might experience an attack once or twice a month, but your friend might only have one once or twice a year. A small minority of people have what we call chronic migraine. This means they have a headache on at least 15 days each month, with a migraine attack on at least eight of those days.

Why do some people have migraine?

We don’t know exactly what causes migraine. It’s thought to be the result of unusual brain activity that affects the nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in our brains. We don’t know why this happens, but it can be genetic. That means that if you have a family member with migraine, you’re more likely to have it too.

Having migraine can be really frustrating, but it is nobody’s fault. With the right information and tools, we can manage migraine and live a full and happy life. If you ask around at school, you’ll probably find that a lot of your friends or people they know have migraine too.

Migraine triggers

Sometimes a migraine attack just happens for no obvious reason. However, sometimes something in our environment, or the way we’re feeling that day, can cause one to happen. We call these migraine triggers and different people can have different triggers.

Migraine triggers include:

  • A bad night’s sleep
  • Having a lie in
  • Being thirsty
  • Feeling worried or stressed
  • Skipping meals
  • Weather changes
  • Banging your head
  • Bright lights
  • Loud sounds
  • Exercise
  • Hormonal changes

Sometimes just one trigger alone isn’t enough to give you a migraine attack, but two or three together do. For example, you might have had a really bad night’s sleep and be feeling tired. That on it’s own might not be enough to cause a migraine attack, but if you also skip breakfast and feel anxious about an exam that day, it could be enough to trigger an attack.

Keeping a headache diary, either through a physical diary or an app on your phone, can help you work out your triggers. Trying to avoid and manage these triggers can help to prevent migraine attacks.