23/12/2014 23:24 GMT | Updated 22/02/2015 05:59 GMT

Avoiding Migraine Triggers This Christmas

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While it's the butt of many jokes, it is true to say that women sometimes do get more headaches. Around one in seven people in the UK suffer migraines, but it actually affects three times as many women as men. And as any 'migraineur', male or female, will tell you it's no laughing matter.

Migraine is the most common neurological condition in the developed world. Around eight million people in the UK experience them and it's about as prevalent as diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. While it's not a threat to your overall health, it can seriously affect quality of life.

If you've ever experienced a migraine, you'll know that it usually manifests itself as a severe, throbbing headache at the front or side of the head, which can last few hours or in some cases, a few days. Other symptoms, such as feeling or being sick and increased sensitivity to light or sound, often plague sufferers. I've treated patients at the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service who say that all they can do when they have a migraine is lie down in a dark, quiet room, which no one wants to have to do - especially during the party season.

Can you prevent a migraine?

The exact causes of migraines are unknown, although they are thought to be the result of temporary chemical changes in the blood vessels of the brain. Genes can also play a role, so you're more likely to get them if you have a close relative who suffers from them.

For some, episodes are rare and can be years apart, but for others they can happen several times a week. Hormone changes and even changes in the weather can trigger a migraine. They can often be brought on by stress or anxiety, being over tired and certain foods, such as chocolate and cheese.

Maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle is paramount. Take regular exercise, sleep and don't skip meals, stay well hydrated and keep an eye on how much caffeine and alcohol you consume. If you've tried all this and your migraines are severe, medication can help treat the symptoms.

Over-the-counter painkillers can be beneficial, as are medicines that treat the feeling of sickness. If non-prescription medicines don't work for you, there are also prescription treatments that can help.

Many patients find a way of reducing attacks by identifying and avoiding their own particular triggers. If you suspect a specific trigger causes your migraines, such as a certain type of food, try to avoid it. The Migraine Trust offers a free online diary that encourages you to keep a record of your migraine experiences to help you stay in control of your condition.

Light at the end of the tunnel

While there is no cure for migraines at the moment, there is lots of research into the subject - and most sufferers find their condition improves over time; becoming less severe and frequent as they get older.

Meanwhile, if you or a family member suffers with them, it can be really useful to pin down what usually sets them off. For some migraineurs, the seasonal festivities can be a minefield of potential triggers - from alcohol and rich foods, to the stress that can be involved in all the preparations. So take care, and I wish you all a headache-free Christmas.