Dr Clare Morrison

Article by Dr Clare Morrison

What is a Migraine and how do you treat it?

Are you fed up with over the counter medicines which don’t deliver migraine relief? Well you’re not alone. Despite affecting so many of our lives, most of us don’t know the basics about migraines and as many as 1 in 2 of us are self-medication with over the counter medicines and alternative remedies(1). If this sounds like you, read on to discover your migraine relief today.

What is a migraine?

Migraines are caused by abnormal activity deep inside your brain which triggers
inflammation. This inflammation creates changes in the chemicals, nerves and blood vessels inside your head, which then cause the pain we commonly refer to as a migraine(1).

Migraine symptoms

  • Repeating attacks, often life-long
  • Attacks are a headache which is usually:
    • Moderate to severe
    • On one side of the head
    • Characterised by a pulsating/throbbing feeling
    • Made worse by activity, e.g. walking
    • Long-lasting (up to 2-3 days)
  • Often accompanies by nausea and increased sensitivity to light and noise

Want to know more about symptoms of migraines? The World Health Organisation (WHO) has produced a Fact Sheet on headache disorders

Things you didn’t know about migraines

  • Women are three times more likely to get migraines than men(2)
  • They can be caused by use of combined oral contraceptives(2)
  • They cause an estimated 25 million days off work or school in the UK each year
  • Headaches, including migraines are in the top ten causes of disability in Europe(3)

Migraine relief

Common over the counter pain killers are the first step for most people with migraines, but these are often not enough. For people who have exhausted over the counter options, prescription migraine treatments are available. These are designed to reduce inflammation in the brain – the root cause of migraines. A common class of prescription treatments that does this are the triptans, these include sumatriptan, zolmitriptan and rizatriptan. These medicines can usually be used alongside common pain killers and anti-emetics (drugs to stop you vomiting). You should check with a doctor before taking any combination of medicines which are new to you.


The WHO estimates that worldwide, up to 1 in 2 people are self-treating headache disorders, including migraines, with over the counter medications or alternative remedies(1).

Fed up with over the counter medication?

At MedExpress – an online UK registered pharmacy, we offer quick and easy online assessments which can give you access to prescription medicines not available over the counter.



1. World Health Organisation (WHO). Fact Sheet: Headache Disorders. Available at www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headachedisorders

Accessed January 2019.

2. Steiner TJ and Martelletti P. Aids for management of common headache disorders in primary care. J Headache Pain. 2007; 8:S1. Available at: https://www.who.int/mental_health/neurology/who_ehf_aids_headache.pdf

Accesses January 2019.

3. Stovner LJ, Hagen K, Jensen R et al. The global burden of headache: a documentation of headache prevalence and disability worldwide. Cephalalgia. 2007; 27:193–210.

Dr Clare Morrison
Dr Clare Morrison
Experienced General Practitioner in Hampshire since 1995, with particular interest in Nutrition, Obesity and Smoking Cessation.
Originally published February 06 2019, updated October 21 2019