The mystery of migraines

How to prevent the worst headache you’ve ever had


You’re lying in bed. Opening your eyes hurts. Moving hurts. The sound of your watch ticking hurts. Everything hurts. You feel nauseous. One side of your head is clearly holding an alien prisoner that’s trying to burst out through your scalp. The diagnosis? You have a migraine.

The exact cause of this chronic pain has, despite being investigated for hundreds of years, yet to be discovered. Even so, we spoke to Dr Ali Hosseinkhah, senior consultant in neurology at the German Centre for Neurology and Psychiatry, about how to identify them and the best ways to relieve the pain.

What is a migraine? ‘A migraine is more than an ordinary headache – doctors distinguish 18 different types, so a specialised doctor is key in figuring out adequate treatment. Between 12 to 14 per cent of women suffer from migraines, whereas only 6 to 8 per cent of men do. Scientific efforts to define the disease have lasted centuries, yet none have been successful. It is most likely a genetic disease as it is often found in a family’s medical history. Apparently, deficits in stimuli-processing have been found in sufferers, indicating a ‘migraine generator’ in the brain stem.’

The causes: ‘It’s very important to know which trigger factors apply to each individual, as this varies. Very often, sufferers name changes in weather, or sensitivity to certain foods such as cheese or chocolate.
On the other hand, vascular problems (issues with the blood vessels) can be the cause of migraines. There are a variety of triggers.’

The symptoms:
‘The duration of an attack can vary from four to 72 hours. Typical complaints are loss of appetite (in almost all cases); a throbbing and pulsating headache, very often on one side of the head, although it may also change sides during the attack; nausea (in 80 per cent of cases); vomiting (in 40 to 50 per cent); photophobia, or light becoming unbearable (in 60 per cent of cases); sensitivity to noise
(50 per cent of sufferers); and sensitivity to specific odours (in just 10 per cent of cases).’

If you’re worried about migraines, the German Centre for Neurology and Psychiatry has a range of specialists that can help. Dubai Healthcare City, (04 429 8578)

How can I prevent them?

Dr Hosseinkhah’s top five tips

1 Keep a migraine diary.
2 Avoid trigger foods, such as cheese and chocolate.
3 Take up physical exercise, such as walking, swimming or cycling.
4 Psychotherapy or acupuncture can help in many cases.
5 Try relaxation techniques such as biofeedback or deep breathing.

Alternative cures

This 5,000-year-old discipline offers one particularly good treatment for the relief of headaches. Sirodhara involves warm, medicated oil being poured onto the forehead for up to 40 minutes. We tried it and walked out feeling unbelievably relaxed, our usual tension headache gone. A full treatment for migraines requires more attention from an Ayurvedic doctor, where herbs, yoga, relaxation and further treatments will be prescribed. Try Royal Ayurveda in Dubai Healthcare City where the treatment costs Dhs975 for 90 minutes (04 428 1480).

Foods that commonly trigger migraines include aged cheese, chocolate, alcohol, aspartame (found in sweeteners) and monosodium glutamate (a salt flavouring used particularly in Chinese cuisine). If you’re a chronic sufferer of migraines, keep a food diary and note if any foods in particular seem to trigger your pain. If you spot something, just cut it out. Full stop. Also, it sounds obvious, but drink more water –
dehydration won’t help.

Rub a small amount of peppermint oil on your temples (remember to wash your hands afterwards and avoid touching your eyes, as it will sting). You’ll feel an instant cooling relief, much like a cold compress. Available at most pharmacies and health stores – we particularly recommend Neal’s Yard Remedies oil, Dhs45 for 10ml, available at The Dubai Mall (04 325 3154).

In October, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Botox injections to treat chronic migraines in adults (chronic meaning those who suffer migraines at least two weeks every month). The treatment involves injections around the head and neck, and can provide relief for up to three months. Why it helps is still unclear: possibly because it freezes pain receptors.

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