Migraine is a long-term neurological condition that typically involves throbbing head pain of moderate-to-severe intensity. Migraine attacks usually last between 4 hours and 72 hours, which can be highly disabling. In addition to head pain, migraines are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sensitivity to light, sound and smells.

Approximately 10 million people live with migraine in the UK. The Migraine Trust, estimates that over one million live with chronic migraine, meaning they experience symptoms for at least 15 days a month.

Information on migraine, including symptoms and treatment options, is available on the NHS website. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has also published guidance on migraines. This includes a clinical guideline on Headaches: Diagnosis and management of headaches in young people and adults, last updated in 2021, which sets out evidence based best practice for healthcare professionals in the care, treatment and support of people who suffer from migraines.

The usual treatment approaches to migraine are designed to either treat symptoms, or to prevent or reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Migraine treatments include:

  • painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol
  • medicines called triptans
  • medicines that stop the feeling of sickness or being sick

It is not fully understood what causes migraines, but it may involve the temporary widening of blood vessels in the brain, and triptans work by narrowing these blood vessels.

NICE has published a number of specific recommendations on medications to prevent and treat migraines, which can be found on the NICE website.

In England it is the responsibility of integrated care boards (ICBs) to make available appropriate provision to meet the health and care needs of their local population. The Government has said that the RightCare Headache and Migraines Toolkit should be used by ICBs to ensure that people suffering from migraines are supported effectively. The toolkit sets out the key priorities for improvement, including correct identification and diagnosis of headache disorders, and long-term management of patients in primary or community care (see PQ9647, Migraines: Health Services, 23 January 2024).

Further information on access to migraine treatment is provided by the Migraine Trust, which funds research, provides information and campaigns and supports people affected by migraine in the UK.

In September 2023, coinciding with Migraine Awareness Week, the Migraine Trust reported that people with migraine were struggling to access appropriate diagnoses and treatments. Their report, Heading the wrong way (PDF), found misunderstanding of the condition as ‘just a headache’, lack of specialist care and unequal provision of treatments.

Also in September 2023, Dehenna Davison wrote about her personal experience of chronic migraine (The Times, Dehenna Davison: How chronic migraines forced me off the front bench, 23 September 2023).

Further background on the debate can be found on the Parliament website: Access to migraine treatment 

Further reading

Heading in the wrong direction: Challenges in migraine care and why people with migraine deserve better
The Migraine Trust
December 2023

Dismissed for too long: the impact of migraine on children and young people (PDF)
The Migraine Trust
September 2022

Dismissed for too long: recommendations to improve migraine care in the UK (PDF)
The Migraine Trust
September 2021

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