A migraine is a complex condition with a variety of symptoms, most often a severe, debilitating headache.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2023

What is a migraine?

Migraines are relatively common. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and are most commonly nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. They’re more common in women – affecting one in five, compared to one in 15 men.

A migraine can last from four to 72 hours and can occur from once a year to several times a week.

If you have migraines regularly, it can affect your work, family and social life.

How to tell if you have a migraine

The two main types of migraine are migraine without aura or migraine with aura.

Migraine without aura

Most people experience migraines without aura. This type of migraine is usually felt as a throbbing headache on one side of your head, often with other migraine symptoms such as:

Migraine with aura

Migraine with aura is where you experience many or all of the symptoms of a migraine without aura with additional neurological migraine symptoms including:

  • Visual disturbances such as blind spots, coloured spots, flashes, lines, tunnel vision or temporary blindness
  • Tingling or pins and needles
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or vertigo

Ocular migraine (retinal migraine) is a separate condition that causes brief blindness or vision problems in one eye.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

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Diagnosis and tests for migraines

If you have frequent or severe migraines, you should see your GP.

There’s no test to diagnose migraines, so your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your medical history, symptoms and by ruling out other causes.

Seek urgent medical attention if you experience:

  • Paralysis or weakness on one side of your body
  • Slurred speech
  • A sudden agonising headache unlike anything you’ve experienced before
  • A fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision and a rash

These are symptoms of serious conditions including stroke and meningitis.

Causes of migraines

It’s not known what causes migraines. About half of all people who get migraines have a close family member who also gets them, suggesting that there may be a genetic link.

Some people find that their migraines are triggered by certain things such as:

  • Hormonal changes, such as starting their period
  • Emotional triggers such as stress, anxiety, shock or excitement
  • Tiredness or jet lag
  • Certain foods or drinks, medications or dehydration
  • Bright lights
  • Strong smells

Common treatments for migraines

There’s no cure for migraines but there are things that can help manage the symptoms.

Medications that may help are:

  • Over-the-counter painkillers – however, frequent use can contribute to headaches
  • Triptans – specifically to treat migraine headaches
  • Anti-emetics – to reduce nausea and vomiting

If medications don’t help, you can try:

  • A course of a acupuncture
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation – a non-invasive method of brain stimulation using electromagnetic induction, focused on the area of the brain thought to play a role in mood regulation


Sometimes, the best method to manage your migraines is simply to prevent them. You can try:

  • Avoiding known or suspected triggers
  • Maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and sleep
  • Staying hydrated
  • Reducing the amount of alcohol or caffeine that you consume

If these don’t help, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can prevent migraines.