Frequent migraine attacks have made Geraldine van Buren's life a misery.

The debilitating condition, which she has suffered for many years, has caused her to lose jobs and miss out on family get-togethers.

She has also had to stop eating certain foods and avoid any circumstances that might trigger an attack.

When she does develop a migraine, it makes her physically sick and wipes her out for days afterwards.

Mrs van Buren, 48, from Telscombe Cliffs, first developed migraine following an operation on her jaw 13 years ago. At first she suffered an attack every two weeks but adjusting her diet has helped cut them down to one every six weeks.

She no longer drinks alcohol and avoids eating cheese, chocolate, acidic fruits and fruit juices, all of which can set off an attack.

Sufferers are also advised to steer clear of loud music, bright lights and computer screens.

Lewes GP Michael Edwards has treated several patients with migraine problems.

He said: "It is far more than just a headache. The condition debilitates people to the extent they can't do anything except lie down.

"Some people lose their balance and their speech becomes slurred. Most suffer sickness and nausea.

"The after-effects can last for days."

Migraine is a complex condition with a variety of symptoms. Various metabolic, neurophysiological and biochemical changes take place during an attack.

For many, the main feature is the headache but for children the headache may be milder and it is the gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach-ache which predominate.

It is also a disorder which comes and goes, with complete freedom from symptoms between attacks.

Anyone can be affected by migraine, which is probably one of the most common painful, long-term conditions that exists.

The International Headache Society and World Health Organisation recognise seven different classifications for migraine but the two most common forms account for more than 95 per cent of patients.

These are the so-called common migraine and the migraine with "aura".

Aura migraines can include symptoms such as loss of balance, double vision, fainting and temporary, partial paralysis.

Signs of the beginning of a migraine can include mood change, hyperactivity or tiredness, yawning, depression or extreme elation and thirst. These can last for hours, up to a day or so, and are often vague at first so are generally overlooked.

The aura, which sometimes but not always follows the initial stages of a migraine, is a complex of neurological symptoms.

These usually take the form of visual disturbances such as zig-zagging, flashing lights. Speech and other sensory problems such as loss of hearing, memory problems and feelings of fear and confusion can also occur.

The headache stage involves head pain which can often be aggravated by movement.

The pain can be totally incapacitating. It is typically throbbing in nature but can also be experienced as a pressing or tightening feeling.

It is also typically onesided, especially at the start, although not always.

Nausea and, less frequently, vomiting can be present at this stage, as well as a sensitivity to light or sound or both.

Most attacks fade away slowly but some can be stopped by violent vomiting or weeping profusely. Sleep seems to be the best cure;

even an hour or two can be enough to end an attack.

Dr Edwards said: "Most attacks occur spontaneously and for apparently no reason. But migraine sufferers can be extremely sensitive to certain factors which can bring on attacks.

"These include hormonal changes in women and stress. The frustration and feeling of depression of living with migraine can also significantly contribute to stress, leaving the patient in a vicious circle."

There is no standard drug treatment for migraine so the choice of drugs should always be made on an individual basis.

There are two types of drugs for migraine: Those given to deal with the acute attack as it is happening and those taken daily to try to prevent attacks or reduce their frequency and severity.

Migraine affects about six million people in the UK of all ages, social classes and cultures, although twice as many women are sufferers.

For advice and support about headaches, including migraine, contact the Migraine Trust on 0207 831 4818 or at www.migraine