National Migraine Centre
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I'm new here and I'm worried for my mum

My mum suffers regularly from headaches, migraines, and a stiff neck/neck pain. She's in her early 40s and a smoker. She takes ibuprofen/paracetamol daily and waking up in the mornings is always painful for her. Her worst migraines occurs perhaps twice a year, where she suffers severe neck and shoulder pain (so bad she cannot move her head), flushes of cold and heat, and nauseousness. No pillow or sleeping schedule changes can relieve her migraines or neck pain.

I've checked everywhere to see if these symptoms may be signs of something serious, but I've got nothing. Just told it's normal and to go through generic lifestyle changes. I'm getting very worried for her, as these migraines have been hindering her for years and more severe headaches are becoming more frequent in her life.

Any hint on how to help her, or if her symptoms are something serious? I'd highly appreciate any advice.

2 Replies

Your mum could do with seeing a headache specialist for advice. All her symptoms sound like migraine but it's as well to be sure. Migraine is usually a one sided and throbbing pain and might be preceded by a visual aura (eg flashing lights/affected vision). You can also have neck and shoulder pain, nausea and vomiting, and more, such as confusion and difficulty speaking. It affects your whole system, not just your head.

Taking painkillers every day is known to make headaches and migraine worse. It's called 'medication overuse headache.' But it is very difficult to cut down when you have so many migraines and are in such pain.

Usually the recommendation is to go on to a preventative medication which the GP can prescribe, although all these have some side effects.

There's a special pain killer specially for migraine called a 'triptan'. There are several different kinds on prescription and although you can buy one of them OTC I think your mum should check with her GP this is ok for her as she is a smoker.

She may be able to cut down the number of migraines by looking at her triggers. Although migraine is genetic, people all have different triggers that can set it off such as strong smells, not enough sleep, caffeine, heat, stuffy rooms, certain foods and drinks, etc. Maybe you could help her with that by making a diary or chart and seeing if there is a pattern, if she gets worse migraines in certain situations or with particular foods. For some women, hormones are a trigger as well. It's important to stay hydrated by drinking regular amounts of water. Maybe she'd consider giving up smoking.

If you look at Youtube and search for the migraine channel and Dr Peter Goadsby, and Dr David Kernick, you'll find some really useful video interviews about migraine and other kinds of headache. I know migraine can be very, very frightening and these help to explain it.

It sounds like she should go back to her GP as a start and explain she is not coping. If she can't get help or referred to a specialist, perhaps she could self refer to the National Migraine Centre.


It's nice to know your mum has a caring daughter. I'm almost certain your mum is having typical migraines. The problem is with migraines they can change structure over the years. Mine are completely different now to what they used to be. Tell your mum to go to the doctors as she can get tablets that will help her when she gets them.

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