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Chronic migraines: Symptoms, causes and treatment as MP resigns from role

A woman lays on the floor in a shadow with her hands over her eyes and cheeks
People who suffer from chronic migraines find the condition can significantly impact their everyday lives. (Getty Images)

Levelling up minister Dehenna Davison has resigned from her role in government due to living with chronic migraines.

The 30-year-old MP for Bishop Auckland in County Durham said in her resignation letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak that suffering from the condition has had a “great impact on my ability to carry out the role”.

“Some days I’m fine, but on others it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with the demands of ministerial life - and the timing of such days is never predictable,” she wrote. “Though I have tried to mitigate, and am grateful to colleagues for their patience at times, I don’t feel it is right to continue in the role.”

Dehenna Davison, pictured, has resigned from her role due to chronic migraines. (Getty Images)
Dehenna Davison MP has resigned from her role as levelling up minister due to chronic migraines. (Getty Images)

Chronic migraines are defined as having headache on at least 15 days per month, with eight of these having migraine symptoms, for at least three months.

According to the NHS, around 10 million people aged 15-69 in the UK suffer from migraines. The condition is classified as a disabling illness, and usually manifests as a very bad headache with a throbbing pain on one side of the head.

Symptoms of chronic migraines

People who suffer from chronic migraines may experience the following symptoms:

  • Frequent headaches

  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound or smells

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Aura: A temporary warning symptom before the onset of a migraine that can include visual problems, numbness or tingling sensation that starts in the hand before moving up the arm to the face, and difficulty speaking

  • Dizziness

  • Vertigo: A sensation of spinning

A woman holds one hand to her head and steadies herself against a door frame as the room behind her appears to spin as she suffers from vertigo
Dizziness and vertigo, which is a sensation of spinning, can be symptoms of a migraine. (Getty Images)

Read more: How to get rid of headaches as it's revealed how common they are (particularly in women) (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

What causes chronic migraines?

Scientists and doctors do not know the exact causes of chronic migraines. According to the Migraine Trust, there are some medical conditions that could increase a person’s tendency to have migraines, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Other pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia

  • Sleep apnoea

  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (PoTS)

Watch: More than 40% think migraines and allergies won’t be a problem in 100 years

Chronic migraines tend to develop gradually if migraines become more frequent over time. Around 2.5 out of 100 people with episodic migraines (headaches that occur on fewer than 15 days per month) go on to develop chronic migraines.

Some patients may also find certain triggers can cause migraines. According to the NHS, these include:

  • Starting a period

  • Stress and tiredness

  • Not eating regularly

  • Too much caffeine

  • Not getting enough exercise

How can chronic migraines impact your life?

The condition can have a significant impact on your everyday life, as well as your personal and professional relationships.

According to research by the Migraine Trust, it is estimated that Britons lose a total of 43 million days from work and education each year due to migraines. Meanwhile, 60% of people who suffer from migraines feel it significantly impacted their relationship with their partner or spouse.

Having regular migraines can also affect a person’s mental health, with 71% of sufferers saying it has affected their wellbeing significantly.

Read more: Suffer From Migraines? A Wafer-Like Drug Has Just Been Approved To Help Extreme Headaches (HuffPost UK, 2-min read)

How can chronic migraines be treated?

If you are experiencing headaches more than 15 days per month, with at least eight having migraine symptoms, you should speak to your GP. It is recommended that you keep a headache diary detailing symptoms to help correctly diagnose chronic migraine.

Close-up of woman sitting on edge of bed holding pills and glass of water
Taking over-the-counter painkillers before a migraine worsens may help ease symptoms. (Getty Images)

While there is no cure for migraines, there are several treatment options to help patients manage the condition, including drug and non-drug treatments.

Painkillers

Over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin can help reduce symptoms of a migraine. These are most effective if taken at the first signs of a migraine attack, NHS Inform says, and you should not wait until the headache worsens before taking painkillers as it will often be too late.

However, taking too many painkillers can lead to medication overuse headaches, which can make it difficult to treat migraines. You should not take them more than 15 days per month.

Triptans

If over-the-counter painkillers are ineffective at easing symptoms, GPs may recommend a triptan medicine, which is a specific painkiller for migraine. These are available as tablets, injections and nasal sprays.

Some side-effects of triptans can include flushing and light-headedness, feelings of heaviness in the face, throat, limbs or chest, tingling, nausea, dry mouth and drowsiness. GPs may try prescribing a different type of triptan is the first course of treatment is not effective or causes unpleasant side effects.

Read more: New mum’s 'excruciating migraines' turned out to be a fast-growing brain tumour (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)

Preventive treatment

Preventive treatment aims to reduce how often migraine occurs and their severity. These can include prescriptions of beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-epilepsy drugs and the blood pressure tablet candesartan.

Non-drug options

Certain changes to lifestyle or holistic treatments like acupuncture can sometimes help chronic migraine sufferers to ease their symptoms. These usually work best when used alongside other treatment options.