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What is a migraine?

A migraine is the term for a moderate or severe headache that is usually felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head.1 Besides head pain, when a person has a migraine they may feel sick and they may vomit. They may also feel more sensitive to light and sound than usual.

How common are migraines?

Migraines are fairly common and affect around one in every five women and around one in every 15 men – usually beginning in early adulthood.[1]

How often do people get migraines?

The frequency of migraines varies from one person to another. Some people can have them several times a week, whereas others only get them occasionally. It’s possible to go for years without having one.[1]

What’s the difference between a migraine and a headache?

Headaches are not usually accompanied by other symptoms associated with migraine, such as visual disturbances. However, it is quite likely that if you have migraine you will also experience other headaches.[4]

Migraine causes

Migraines are thought to be caused by short-term changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels of the brain. They can run in families, which suggests that – in some cases – there could be a genetic cause.1

You may be able to link migraines with triggers that are personal to you, such as:1

  • For women – around the time of your period
  • Feeling stressed
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • What you have had to eat or drink

It can be useful to keep a diary every time you get a migraine, because if you can identify any triggers you can potentially make lifestyle changes to reduce the likelihood of getting a migraine.1

Migraine types1

  • Migraine without aura – this is the most common type, which comes on without any specific advance warning signs. The person just experiences the throbbing pain on one side of the head
  • Migraine with aura – this has specific warning signs just before the migraine begins, such as seeing flashing lights. This visual disturbance is referred to as ‘aura’
  • Migraine with aura but no headache, also known as silent migraine – a person may experience an aura or other migraine symptoms, but they don’t have the head pain

A retinal migraine is also called an ocular migraine. It is not the same as migraine with aura. It only affects one eye. The symptoms of a retinal migraine can include partial or total loss of vision in one eye. This doesn’t usually last for longer than 20 minutes. You may also get a headache before, during or after the vision loss.2

This type of migraine is usually nothing to worry about, but if your eyesight suddenly deteriorates, you should make an appointment to see an optician or optometrist, your GP or call NHS 111.2

Blood flow to the eye can be temporarily reduced due to many different triggers, such as:2

• Stress
• Smoking
• High blood pressure
• Contraceptive pills
• Exercise
• Bending over
• High altitude
• Dehydration
• Low blood sugar
• Excessive heat

It’s more common in women and people under the age of 40. You may be more likely to get them if migraines or other types of headache run in your family.2

You can take normal pain relief, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. There are various medications a GP can prescribe, if they think other treatments would help.2

The simple answer is yes. There is a link between migraines and hormonal changes. For example, oestrogen levels drop before a period starts. They’re also linked to levels of another hormone called prostaglandin, which affect the amount of period pain women get, and how heavy their periods are. See our section on period pain for more information on prostaglandin.3

You should make an appointment to see your GP, if you suffer with menstrual migraine, because there are various treatments they can prescribe. These range from strong painkillers to reviewing your contraceptive options, as well as the potential to take oestrogen supplements.3

Headaches are not usually accompanied by other symptoms associated with migraine, such as visual disturbances. However, it is quite likely that if you have migraine you will also experience other headaches.4

Migraine symptoms

The symptoms of migraine can vary, depending on which type you have, but can include a throbbing pain on one side of the head, feeling sick, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, seeing flashing lights, and loss of vision in one eye.

Migraine pain relief

If you spot a migraine in its very earliest stages, you may be able to control it with non-prescription pain relievers such as Solpadeine Plus, Solpadeine Max or Solpadeine Headache.

Ask your pharmacist for more advice, and work with your doctor to find the migraine treatments that work best for you.

If you are having frequent or severe migraine symptoms, you should make an appointment to talk to your GP, especially if you get them for more than five days a month. There may be medication that your doctor can prescribe to help prevent the migraines occurring. If you tend to feel sick or be sick when having a migraine, a GP might also prescribe a medicine to try and relieve this.1

You should get urgent medical attention if the headache comes on suddenly and the pain is agonising, or if, in addition to the head pain you – or the person you are with – has a high temperature, a stiff neck, becomes confused, has a seizure, or develops double vision or a rash.1

You may find that taking paracetamol or ibuprofen can help resolve the migraine, but if you find you’re regularly taking these painkillers for migraine, you should talk to your GP as you may find that, because you are taking them often, they are gradually becoming less effective.1

Until the symptoms ease off, you may find that simply lying in a darkened room is the best way to deal with a migraine.1

Getting enough sleep may reduce your chances of getting a migraine. Try and get up at the same time every day to regulate your sleep. Taking some form of exercise every day can help you get a good night’s sleep.1

Try not to skip meals, and limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.1

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1. NHS: Migraine. Available at: Accessed July 2021.
2. NHS: Retinal Migraine. Available at: Accessed July 2021.
3. Migraine Trust. Menstrual Migraine. Available at: Accessed July 2021.
4. Migraine Trust. Headache. Available at: Accessed July 2021.

Find out more about other pain types

Select a type of pain to read about causes, what you can do to help relieve it, and which treatments are most appropriate.

Solpadeine® Max Soluble Tablets, Paracetamol 500mg, Codeine Phosphate Hemihydrate 12.8mg, Caffeine 30mg For the treatment of acute moderate pain which is not relieved by paracetamol or ibuprofen alone. Contains codeine. Can cause addiction. Use for 3 days only. Always read the leaflet.

Solpadeine® Headache Soluble Tablets contain Paracetamol and Caffeine – a mild analgesic and antipyretic formulated to give extra pain relief. Always read the leaflet.

Solpadeine® Plus, Solpadeine® Max and Solpadeine® Headache products are not recommended for children under 12 years of age.

SolpaOne® 1000mg Effervescent Tablets contains paracetamol. For the treatment of mild to moderate pain and/or fever. For adults and adolescents over 50kg of body weight aged 16 years and above. Always read the leaflet.


*New pack size of 24 soluble tablets for 3 day use in adults