Westmead Hospital doctor’s expert tips for migraine sufferers

Considered Australia’s most underestimated disability, migraines affect about a quarter of the nation’s population.

Migraines can impact your vision and general functionality. They can leave people out of action from several hours to several days.

Westmead Hospital neurologist Dr Andrew Duggins said migraines are common, and offered some useful tips to help manage and prevent the effects.

“Nausea, vomiting, vision disturbance and pain on one side of the head are common symptoms of a migraine,” Dr Duggins said.

“The most characteristic thing about migraine is that it is episodic, meaning occasional. Even if someone has only had one or two bad headaches in their youth, chances are these were migraine.”

Westmead Hospital neurologist Dr Andrew Duggins

Migraines are considered episodic if a person is experiencing a headache less than 15 days a month, but if you’re impacted for more than 15 days per month over a three-month period that’s classed as a chronic migraine.

 Dr Duggins said migraines have a significant impact on work, school, housework and social activities.

There is currently no cure for this debilitating neurological condition – but Dr Duggins offered some valuable tips to help treat and minimise the impacts of migraines:

  • Carry some aspirin (painkiller medication) around with you, so you can take it early in an episode – ideally during the visual aura that might precede your headache. Once you’ve had a migraine for a couple of hours, it won’t be so effective.
  • Taking a nausea tablet can help not just with your queasiness, but also increase the absorption of painkillers – even if you have not yet become nauseous. 
  • It is important you do not take painkillers every day, even if a migraine seems to be persisting. In the long-term, make sure there are at least four days each week when you don’t take any painkillers.
  • Lying in a dark room can often reduce the pain, and if you can manage to sleep, that will often fix it. 

Dr Duggins’ final tip: “It’s important to remember that even a migraine sufferer might occasionally get a headache caused by something else, which still has some of the migrainous features. So if you notice something different or worrying, do not hesitate to contact a doctor.”

As of June 2021, the migraine prevention drug Emgality has been added to Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Dr Duggins said the improved drug availability, which is taken once a month by self-injection, will help chronic migraine suffers get on top of this condition.

“The number of people eligible for this drug will be limited because of the strict criteria – but having it readily available will give these people a sense of normality.

“I hope this helps people in an affordable, effective manner.” 

For more help dealing with chronic pain, talk to your doctor about the Westmead Hospital Pain Management Centre.