Help & Advice

What is a migraine?

Migraines are a common problem, affecting 15% of the adult population in the UK. They affect more women than men and 90% of people have their first migraine before the age of 40.

What are the symptoms and stages of a migraine?

Migraines can affect different people in different ways. Normally (but not always) it includes a severe throbbing headache felt at the front or on one side of the head, and is usually accompanied by feeling or being sick, and/or a sensitivity to bright light and loud sounds. Sufferers often say they have to lie down in a darkened, quiet room and wait for it to pass – it will usually last anywhere up to 72 hours.

In some migraine sufferers, the headache is preceded by changes in mood, energy levels, behaviour and appetite for several hours before the attack. This can be followed by an “aura” stage, which includes seeing flashing lights, blind spots, inability to focus and seeing things as though through broken glass. It can be quite frightening if you are not used to it, and can last for up to an hour before a headache starts. Most migraines fade away or disappear after being sick or with sleep. In many cases, the sufferer will feel weak and exhausted afterwards.

What causes a migraine?

Some people suffer migraine attacks rarely and can go for years without an attack, whilst others can have several attacks a week. For many, migraines are triggered by certain things.

Common triggers include stress or anxiety, shock, tiredness or poor sleep patterns associated with shift work, neck or shoulder tension and poor posture. For some people, certain foods can trigger migraines. Migraine sufferers are often encouraged to keep a diary of foods to try and identify any triggers so that they can be avoided.

Bright or flashing lights, strong smells, loud noises or very cold temperatures may trigger migraines. Some medicines can cause migraines, such as some sleeping tablets, hormone replacement therapy and the contraceptive pill.

Which medications are best for treating a migraine?

There are two strategies for treating migraines: treating them as they arise, or taking prophylactics to prevent their onset.

Some patients are prescribed weak opioids to help them to manage the pain caused by migraines. The doctor’s at White Pharmacy recommend caution when taking this medication, as overuse may lead to opioid-induced headaches.

Prescription medications that are designed specifically to treat the pain caused by migraines when ibuprofen and paracetamol are not strong enough include Imigran (sumatriptan), Maxalt Melts (rizatriptan) and Zomig (zolmatriptan). One of the newest triptan treatments added to the White Pharmacy range is Frovatriptan (generic Migard).

Alternatively, prescription medication designed to prevent the onset of migraines can be taken. The doctors at White Pharmacy will prescribe amitriptyline for migraine prophylaxis. You may not know that Propanolol can also be used to treat migraines. The NICE guidelines ( suggest that preventative treatments should be considered if you suffer from at least two migraine attacks per month.

What if I don’t want to take medication?

There are plenty of people who have tried wearing a cooling Migra-Cap® and can vouch for its effectiveness! The Migra-Cap® can be stored in the fridge or freezer and will help cool and sooth when you wear it. It also ensures complete darkness, so you won’t be bothered by bright lights any more!

Studies have also shown that riboflavin (vitamin B) can reduce the number of migraine attacks by up to 50%. We would welcome your feedback if you think White Pharmacy should stock further vitamin supplements.