Overview - Migraine

A migraine is usually a moderate or severe headache felt as a throbbing pain on 1 side of your head.

Many people also have symptoms such as feeling and being sick. Some people get increased sensitivity to light or sound.

Migraine is a common condition. It affects around 1 in 5 women and around 1 in 15 men. They usually begin in early adulthood.

Type of migraine

Migraine with aura

This type has specific warning signs before the migraine begins. These include seeing flashing lights.

Migraine without aura

This is the most common type. This migraine happens without specific warning signs.

Migraine aura without headache

This is also known as silent migraine. An aura or other migraine symptoms are experienced. But a headache does not develop.

Some people have migraines often. Other people only have a migraine sometimes.

It's possible for years to pass between migraines.

When to contact your GP

You should contact your GP if you have frequent or severe migraine symptoms.

Painkillers can be effective for migraine.

Try not to use the maximum dosage of painkillers often. This could make it harder to treat headaches over time.

You should also make an appointment to contact your GP if you have frequent migraines (on more than 5 days a month). Do this even if you can manage them with medicines. Preventative treatment may help.

Immediate action required: You should call 999 or 112 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone you're with experiences:

  • paralysis or weakness in one or both arms or one side of the face
  • slurred or garbled speech
  • a sudden very painful headache resulting in a severe pain unlike anything experienced before
  • headache along with a high temperature (fever), stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision and a rash

These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Causes of migraines

The exact cause of migraines is unknown. They might be the result of temporary changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels in the brain.

Around half of all people who experience migraines also have a close relative with the condition. This suggests that genes may play a role.

Some people find migraine attacks are associated with certain triggers, which can include:

  • starting their period
  • stress
  • tiredness
  • certain foods or drinks

Treating migraines

There is no cure for migraines. But some treatments are available to help reduce the symptoms.

These include:

  • painkillers – including over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • triptans – medicines that can help reverse the changes in the brain that may cause migraines
  • anti-emetics – medicines often used to help relieve people's feeling of sickness (nausea) or being sick

During an attack, many people find that sleeping or lying in a darkened room can also help.

Preventing migraines

If you think a trigger is causing your migraines, avoid this trigger. This may help reduce your risk of experiencing migraines.

It may also help to maintain a generally healthy lifestyle, including:

  • regular exercise
  • sleep and meals
  • ensuring you stay well hydrated
  • limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol

If your migraines are severe you should contact your GP. You should also contact them if you have tried avoiding possible triggers and are still experiencing symptoms. They may prescribe medicines to help prevent further attacks.

Medicines used to prevent migraines include:

  • anti-seizure medicine (topiramate)
  • high blood pressure medicine (propranolol)

It may take several weeks before your migraine symptoms begin to improve.


Migraines can affect your quality of life. They can stop you carrying out your normal daily activities.

Some people find they need to stay in bed for days.

Some effective treatments are available to reduce the symptoms and prevent further attacks.

Migraine attacks can sometimes get worse over time. They tend to improve over many years for most people.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 26 March 2021
Next review due: 26 March 2024