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. Migraines can be very frightening and can result in people having to lie still for many hours. The symptoms will vary from person to person and individuals may have different symptoms during different attacks. Attacks may also differ in length and frequency.
Migraines usually last from four to 72 hours and most people are free from symptoms between attacks. Migraines can have an enormous impact on work, family and social lives.
There is no known cause for migraine, although most people with it are genetically predisposed to the condition. If people are susceptible to migraine, there are certain triggers which commonly occur. These include stress, lack of food, alcohol, hormonal changes in women, lack of sleep and the environment.
Among adults of all ages, migraine is one of the top 20 causes of disability expressed as years of healthy life lost to disability. Severe migraine attacks are classified by the World Health Organisation as among the most disabling illnesses, comparable to dementia, quadriplegia and active psychosis.
- Migraine affects more than one in seven people in the UK.
- There are an estimated eight million people with migraine in the UK.
- In the UK, there are an estimated 190,000 migraine attacks every day.
- Women are more likely to have migraine attacks than men – 18% of women and 8% of men.
- Migraine remains undiagnosed and under-treated in at least 50% of patients, and fewer than 50% of migraine patients consult a doctor.
Impact on health and social care services
Headache is the most common neurological symptom presented to GPs and 4% of all adults consult a GP for headache each year.
A survey of neurologists found that up to one third of all patients consulted because of a headache – more than for any other complaint.
Migraine is the least publicly funded of all neurological illnesses relative to its economic impact.