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Understanding Migraine

A migraine attack is a severe headache, usually present with other symptoms, that can stop a person from functioning normally.1

Migraine overview

Migraine is a common condition that usually features a severe headache.2 Some people also have symptoms know as ‘aura’ – temporary disturbances of vision or other senses.3


People who experience migraine may have certain triggers which can have an impact. These can include stress, skipping meals and low blood sugar, alcohol, hormonal changes (such as periods or menopause), lack of sleep and the environment (lighting, temperature).1


Each person will experience migraine differently, and attacks can differ in duration and frequency.1

Facts about Migraine

A migraine attack is a severe headache that can stop a person from functioning normally.1 Some people also experience symptoms known as ‘aura’ – temporary disturbances of vision or other senses, such as seeing flashes of light, having blind spots, or feeling pins and needles.3

A person with a migraine attack may feel nauseous, and may be extremely sensitive to lights sounds and smells.1

Living with Migraine

Learn about the language of migraines in our report to those suffering.

Symptoms of Migraine

There are two major types of migraine: without aura, and with aura.4


  • Migraine without aura – a moderate-to-severe, throbbing headache, typically on one side of the head (and normally towards the front), that typically lasts for at least a few hours, and possibly up to three days.4 The headache is made worse by normal activity such as walking or climbing stairs.4 A person with a migraine attack may feel nauseous and may be extremely sensitive to light and sound.4


  • Migraine with aura – a headache together with a series of vision disturbances such as flashes of light, zig-zag patterns, or blind spots.4 Alternatively, the headache may be accompanied by feeling pins and needles, tingling, or numbness in a hand, an arm or the face. Less commonly, aura is associated with difficulty in speaking.4 Aura symptoms can last from 5 minutes to an hour, and usually start before the headache.4

In the hours (or even days) before and after a migraine attack, a person may experience symptoms such as tiredness, difficultly concentrating, or neck stiffness.4


People with very frequent migraine attacks, with headaches on 15 or more days per month and migraine characteristics on at least 8 of those days, are said to have ‘chronic’ migraine.4

10 million+

 people suffer from migraine in the UK.2

~ 20%

of people with migraine have aura symptoms.5

Over 190,000

migraine attacks are estimated to take place every day in the UK.2

Epidemiology and burden

Migraine is one of the most common neurological conditions affecting more than 10million people in the UK. Migraines are also more prevalent among women2 and the Global Burden of Disease Study in 2016 showed that headaches were most burdensome in women between ages 15 and 49 years, with migraine causing 20.3 million years of life lived with disability (YLDS) in this age group and sex.6 Around 20% of migraine sufferers experience aura symptoms.5


It is estimated that an average of 5.7 workdays are lost for every person with migraine per year in England.7 Furthermore, people with chronic migraine have more than three times as many days when they are unable to carry out their normal activities such as employment, activity in school and household chores, as those with less frequent migraine attacks.8


Facts about Migraine

In 2016 migraine caused 20.3 million years of live lived with disability (YLDs) to women between ages 15 and 49 years.6

People with migraine lose an average of 5.7 workdays per year in England.7

Diagnosis and care

Migraine is diagnosed based on a history of the person’s headaches (including how often they occur and if the pain is moderate to severe, ‘pulsating’, and on just one side of the head), whether they have noticed any triggers, and whether they have experienced other physical symptoms during their headache.4 For people experiencing frequent ‘chronic’ migraines, it is often helpful for the person to keep a diary of their headaches to help their doctor to diagnose them correctly.4



Migraine is complex and there are different treatments available depending on the type of migraine, the symptoms and the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.1 Medications can be used during an attack to reduce its severity (acute treatment), and preventive medicines can be taken to prevent attacks.2 Making general lifestyle improvements may help people to cope with migraine attacks so regular exercise and eating a well-balanced diet should be an aim.9

  1. What is migraine? The Migraine Trust. https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/what-is-migraine/#page-section-1 [Accessed September 2023]
  2. Migraine. Brain Research UK. https://www.brainresearchuk.org.uk/neurological-conditions/migraine [Accessed September 2023]
  3. Migraine with aura. The Migraine Trust. https://migrainetrust.org/understand-migraine/types-of-migraine/migraine-with-aura/#page-section-1 [Accessed September 2023]
  4. Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia. 2018;38(1):1–211.
  5. Weatherall MW. The diagnosis and treatment of chronic migraine. Ther Adv Chronic Dis. 2015;6(3):115–123.
  6. GBD 2016 Headache Collaborators. Global, regional, and national burden of migraine and tension-type headache, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. Lancet Neurol. 2018;17(11):954–976.
  7. Society’s headache. The socioeconomic impact of migraine. The Work Foundation. https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/media/lancaster-university/content-assets/documents/lums/work-foundation/SocietysHeadacheTheSocioeconomicimpactofmigraine.pdf [Accessed September 2023]
  8. Adams AM, et al. The impact of chronic migraine: the Chronic Migraine Epidemiology and Outcomes (CaMEO) Study methods and baseline results. Cephalalgia. 2015;35(7):563–578
  9. Migraine Attack Triggers. The Migraine Trust. https://migrainetrust.org/live-with-migraine/self-management/common-triggers/ [Accessed September 2023]


Jenna Humphries, Living with Migraine

Living with migraine: A bit of understanding

Valerie Barogiannis, Living with Migraine

Out of the Silence: Speaking Up About Migraine

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UK-NOTPR-1631 | September 2023