A Word with the DOCTOR
by Dr John Winsor
The Sunday Times of Malta


MILLIONS of working days are lost each year through migraines and it has been estimated that just about all of the population have had attacks from time to time.

Persistent sufferers are said to have included Lewis Carroll, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Joan of Arc, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Jefferson.

The symptoms vary a great deal from patient to patient but usually, in addition to a searing headache, many patients vomit. Before this headache there may also be a warning 'aura'. It is also common for some sufferers to see flashing lights and visual disturbances.

Migraines usually begin in the sufferer's teens and may persist throughout the unfortunate victim's life. But the precise cause of migraine, is something of a mystery.

Attacks are triggered off by many different things. Sometimes a specific factor can be the cause, such as chocolate, cheese, oranges, lemons, shellfish, alcohol, tobacco, bananas or fried foods.

To find out whether or not any one of these triggers are responsible, a migraine sufferer must keep a close record of everything that he or she consumes for a month or two. Only then will a pattern emerge, showing some relationship between migraine attacks and a particular food.

A more general cause of migraine is stress. When this is the cause, the attack usually occurs when the individual is relaxing -- often at the weekend, for example.

When an attack occurs, the pain and extreme discomfort can often be relieved to a degree by the use of ordinary painkillers such as aspirin or paracetamol. If these don't work, then it's probably best to get a doctor's prescription for one of the more powerful products available.

It isn't always easy to deal with the pain and discomfort efficiently and I strongly recommend that any sufferer try to identify a cause. If the cause is a particular food, then the obvious answer is to cut it out of the diet -- for a year or two at least.

If stress is the cause, then the answer is either to cut back on stress-producing activities, or to learn how to relax more efficiently. Preventing migraines takes some effort, but the effort is usually worthwhile.