Debbie was 12 years old when she first began having symptoms of migraine.
"I remember being at school and feeling not at all well: headachy and groggy," she says. "The groggy periods increased until I seemed to have a headache all day, every day. But when my mum took me to the doctor he said it was just a part of growing up."
For the next 10 years, Debbie battled with her regular headaches. She went back to the doctor several times but nothing seemed to work. "One specialist put me on tablets which made me feel sick and have hallucinations, but did nothing for the pain," she recalls. "Another told me I had migraine and I just had to learn to live with it."
Then Debbie got a new job in a local factory. But the conditions made her headaches much worse. The factory was very bright, with strip lights, and the machinery made a lot of noise.
Debbie's headaches now started with a mild, toothachy pain for a day or so, which would then fade. The next week, it would come back for longer. The week afterwards, the pain would be too great for her to leave her bedroom. "It was an all-over headache, not a band, as many people describe it, or over one eye," she says. "I felt nauseous but I wasn't always sick. When I was sick, I knew it was a really bad one. I started having to take days off work and I got a couple of warnings. I almost lost my job, and that stress didn't help. I tried to keep going: what else could I do?"
Then Debbie heard about the Migraine Action Association. "I got in touch with them and they sent me leaflets, so I could really educate myself about my condition," she says. "It was incredible to realise that there were many other people like me out there. Migraine is a very isolating condition, so I started a support group. I'm still in touch with some of the people today."
Debbie got herself referred to a specialist in nearby Birmingham. After several tests, including a CT scan, she was diagnosed with chronic daily headache, a condition that is normally associated with overuse of medication. But Debbie was an unusual case. "I hardly ever took anything," she says.
Her specialist suggested she try a new drug, amitriptyline, which is normally used as an anti-depressant. This worked for a while, and for a few months Debbie was virtually headache-free. However, over the next two years her resistance to the drug increased until it was having little or no effect. "The headaches came back with a vengeance," she says.
But Debbie refused to be downhearted. She began experimenting with alternative therapies and found that acupuncture brought her some relief. She now has a session every six months. She also started relaxation techniques, such as walking in the fresh air.
To her surprise, the headaches began to stop. And today, she is headache-free.
"I think a big part of dealing with migraine is thinking positive," she says. "There were times when I thought about ending it all. But you have to keep going. I will always have this condition. It's part of who I am. It's not my fault and it's not caused by anything I've done. It's just there. And through support groups and the help of my specialists, I've learned to cope with it and accept it."
A migraine is usually a severe headache felt as a throbbing pain at the front or side of the head. Many people also have symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Migraine is a common health condition, affecting around one in every five women and around one in every 15 men. They usually begin in early adulthood.
The main symptom of a migraine is usually an intense headache that occurs at the front or on one side of the head. Other symptoms commonly associated with a migraine include: nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and sound which is why many people with a migraine want to rest in a quiet, dark room. Some people also occasionally experience other symptoms, including: sweating, poor concentration, feeling very hot or very cold, abdominal (tummy) pain, diarrhoea.
The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but they're thought to be the result of abnormal brain activity temporarily affecting nerve signals, chemicals and blood vessels in the brain. It's not clear what causes this change in brain activity, but it's possible that your genes make you more likely to experience migraines as a result of a specific trigger.
There's no specific test to diagnose migraines. For an accurate diagnosis to be made, your GP must identify a pattern of recurring headaches along with the associated symptoms. Migraines can be unpredictable, sometimes occurring without the other symptoms. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis can sometimes take time.
There is currently no cure for migraines, although a number of treatments are available to help ease the symptoms. It may take time to work out the best treatment for you. You may need to try different types or combinations of medicines before you find the most effective ones. If you find you can't manage your migraines using over-the-counter medicines, your GP may prescribe something stronger.
Migraines are associated with a small increased risk of ischaemic strokes, and a very small increased risk of mental health problems. Studies have shown that people who experience migraines (particularly migraine with aura) have about twice the risk of having an ischaemic stroke at some point compared to people without migraines.
There are a number of ways you can reduce your chances of experiencing migraines. One of the best ways of preventing migraines is recognizing the things that trigger an attack and trying to avoid them. You may find you tend to have a migraine after eating certain foods or when you're stressed and by avoiding this trigger, you can prevent a migraine.
Debbie was 12 years old when she first began having symptoms of migraine. For the next 10 years, Debbie battled with her regular headaches. She went back to the doctor several times but nothing seemed to work.