What Is a Migraine?
Migraine is a neurological condition that impacts nerve pathways and brain chemicals. The frequency and intensity of migraine can vary greatly. Migraine can last for as little as 4 hours or can become chronic and relentless. Migraine is the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world. In addition to a debilitating headache other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, extensive sensitivity to sound, light, smell and touch and dizziness. Migraine can also cause visual disturbances called auras.
Types of Migraine
Some of the most frequent types of migraine are chronic migraine, acute migraine, vestibular migraine, optical migraine, complex migraine, menstrual migraine, acephalgic migraine, hormonal migraine, and stress migraine.
Causes of Migraine Headache
The cause of migraine is thought to be from one or more of several different health conditions. This might include underlying central nervous disorders, brain blood vessel system irregularities, brain or nerve abnormalities, or genetic predisposition.
Several things may trigger a migraine headache:
- Changes in the chemical composition of the brain
- Extreme weather or barometric pressure
- Dehydration or skipping meals
- Certain foods or medications
- Certain/unusual smells
- Lack of sleep
- Sun glare or bright lights
There are certain risk factors involved in the cause of migraine: age, gender, and family history. Many people report that their first migraine likely appeared in adolescence. 85% of chronic migraine sufferers are women. More than half of all migraine sufferers are never diagnosed. If you have family members that suffer from migraine, your chances of struggling with migraine increase. About 90% of migraine sufferers have a family member with migraine.
Migraine symptoms present themselves in different stages:
Prodrome stage symptoms tend to present themselves before the migraine pain settles in. The symptoms that you may see are depression and fatigue. You may also see irritability, hyperactivity, and excessive yawning. The prodrome stage can also have physical symptoms like neck stiffness and constipation. It is possible to crave unusual foods before the onset of a migraine.
The aura stage occurs between the prodrome and the attack stage. This stage causes issues with vision, movement, speech, and sensations. It's possible to have the headache pain begin in this stage.
During a migraine attack, the debilitating headache pain seeps in. The pain often settles on one side of the head behind the eye or the ear. But in about one third of all cases, a migraine affects both sides. The pain can be throbbing or pulsing. This head-splitting pain comes with several other debilitating symptoms, including:
- Sensitivity to sound and/or light
- Nausea and vomiting
When the migraine symptoms finally begin to subside (postdrome), you may spend the next day or so recovering. You may feel physically drained, mentally confused, or flat-out washed out.
How Is Migraine Diagnosed?
Migraine often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed meaning that migraine sufferers may not be getting the right treatment before and during a migraine attack. Keeping a record of your migraine attacks will be very helpful to your doctor and assist in establishing the diagnosis.
Migraine is diagnosed clinically, based on your history and physical exam. No imaging study can diagnose a migraine. However, your physician may end up obtaining an MRI and/or CT scan to rule out alternative diagnoses that might be causing your pain and other symptoms. A CT scan uses X rays to obtain "slice" images of your head, including your brain. An MRI uses powerful magnetic fields and radio-frequency pulses to excite and listen to your body's protons, thus obtaining exquisite, high detail images of your brain. From your CT or MRI, your doctor may be able to diagnose alternative conditions such as intracranial hemorrhage, a tumor, hydrocephalus or infection as the cause of your headache.
Your physician will then consider the results of these tests with your symptom records and your family history. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will then be able to direct you in both preventative and pain relief methods to help manage your migraine attacks and their dreadful symptoms. In addition to traditional medicines, you may want to seek out alternative tools such as ginger, vitamin B, magnesium, butterbur and feverfew.
How to Prevent Migraine Attacks
There are measures that you can take to prevent migraine attacks before they take over your life.
If you have more than 15 migraine days each month, it may be time to consider preventive measures. Your doctor may prescribe a medication that you take daily to keep the migraine attacks at bay. If you do not want to take a preventative medicine due to unwanted side effects, your doctor can prescribe a medication that you take at the first signs of a migraine to help ease the symptoms.
Medication alone may not be enough to prevent or reduce the effects of a migraine attack, so you might consider some additional treatment options including acupuncture, exercise, yoga, meditation and hot/cold therapy.
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine method for pain relief. It involves skin pricks that are meant to stimulate the nerves that may be causing your migraine symptoms. Utilizing acupuncture can also help to promote blood flow and oxygen flow through the body.
Regular physical activity can help your body to release certain chemicals that naturally block pain by sending the right signals to your brain. It can also help to improve anxiety and depression symptoms that can make your migraine worse. If you find that your migraine attacks are caused by stress or anxiety, consider doing yoga.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the current moment, letting go of your past and your worries for the future. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can lower your stress levels, help you relax, support your body’s ability to handle pain and help you deal with the disruption that migraine brings to daily life. Learning mindfulness and getting to know your body can help you to relax and actually prevent migraine attacks over time.
Many health problems stem from not having enough water in the body for it to function properly. Dehydration is one of the most prevalent triggers of migraine attacks. It is crucial that you make hydrating a priority in your daily life. In fact, dehydration may be life-threatening. Drinking more water and eating foods that have a higher water content, like fruits and veggies, can help you to stay hydrated and stave off possible migraine attacks.
Eat well-balanced meals. When you maintain a proper diet, you may prevent migraine attacks from coming. Sugar, caffeine, and additives found in food and drinks can cause migraine attacks. If this is the case, avoiding them is your best bet to keep them away.
Staying on a regular sleep routine can help you to head off against migraine. While this means getting enough sleep, this can also mean avoiding food close to bedtime and taking a break from electronics for an hour or so before hitting the hay.
Ginger is a terrific supplement to add to your migraine kit. A study of 100 people in a double-blind, randomized trial compared ginger powder to sumatriptan (a prescription migraine medicine). The researchers found that ginger powder is statistically comparable to sumatriptan for migraine pain relief. Ginger helps reduce nausea and vomiting. Ginger increases serotonin, which helps lower inflammation and constrict blood vessels.
A research review published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research suggests that Vitamin B-2 (Riboflavin) can reduce frequency and duration of migraine attacks without serious side effects. Deficiencies of this vitamin have been associated with more frequent and more intense migraine attacks. If you are deficient in vitamin B-2, you may want to consider eating more eggs, fish, avocado, meat and poultry or supplementing this important vitamin.
Research supports the importance of magnesium in preventing migraine. A lack of sufficient magnesium has been associated with migraine headaches. Nuts, grains, black beans and cereals are rich in magnesium. If you need more, a daily magnesium supplement could help you reduce the intensity and frequency of your migraine attacks.
Butterbur appears to reduce the frequency of migraine. The American Academy of Neurology recommends it’s use in preventing migraine attacks. Some butterbur supplements can be harmful because they contain chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). PAs can damage the liver and lungs. PAs may possibly cause cancer. Only butterbur products that have been processed to remove PAs and that are certified as PA-free should be considered for use.
Feverfew is a flowering plant in the daisy family and is an herbal remedy used to prevent migraine headaches. Benefits include its anti-inflammatory properties. However, results of research studies are mixed with some studies finding that feverfew is only slightly better than a placebo effect for reducing migraine attacks.
How to Treat a Migraine Headache
Sometimes your migraine may come even if you are doing everything that you can to prevent it. Maybe you have a bad day and forget to keep up with your routine. It happens to all of us, after all, we're only human. When you find yourself facing another migraine, you need to treat it as soon as possible.
Take Pain Relief Medication & Relax Your Body
Your doctor may prescribe medication to take when your migraine starts as a way to ease the symptoms and get you back on your feet sooner than not taking anything at all. If not, there are over-the-counter medications available for migraine pain relief.
While getting enough sleep can help you prevent migraine attacks from the get-go, taking a nap during a migraine can help you to reduce the migraine pain and start feeling better. Lay down in a dark and quiet room. Blocking out all noise and light can also help to mute the worsening of a migraine.
Heat Therapy with a Microwavable Heating Pad, Neck Wrap or Eye Mask
Incorporating a microwavable heating pad into your migraine relief routine can help to alleviate the pain associated with your migraine. It can be heated to help ease muscle tension and it can be cooled to ease eye and temple pain. The Huggaroo Soothe microwavable heating pad is available unscented (in black or grey) and with lavender aromatherapy (in blue).
A Huggaroo neck and shoulder microwavable heating pad is an excellent tool for your migraine kit. The Huggaroo Embrace is a weighted, ergonomic wrap fits snuggly around your neck and shoulders and provides deep, soothing heat to tense, sore muscles and helps you relax and unwind. Use this daily to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed and pain free. A migraine may start with tension and stiffness in the neck. Our microwaveable neck wraps can be used to soothe this tension and help you feel more comfortable. At the first sign of neck or head pain, heat up your wrap and take a few minutes to close your eyes, breathe deeply through your nose and relax. This simple preventative step may help you to avert an oncoming migraine.
The Huggaroo Gem cold and warm eye compress is great for soothing achy, tired eyes. It is weighted for deep, yet gentle pressure. This eye mask is adjustable with a hook and loop closure so you can have it as snug or as loose as you’d like. It is reversible with a slick, cold silky side and a cozy, warm fleece side. This eye mask can be used hot or cold. Keep the gel pack in your freezer for when you’re ready for it. The weighted insert of clay beads can be easily heated in your microwave for warm relaxation. If you would like additional aromatherapy benefits, there is also a lavender-infused version of this eye compress. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find a dark enough space when you are struggling with a migraine. This Huggaroo Eye Mask thoroughly blocks the light from your surroundings and can help you relax, and let go of tension.
Cold Therapy with a Gel Pack or Ice Pack
The use of Ice packs to provide cold therapy is one of the most common self-care treatments for migraine. In 1849, James Arnott used ice packs to treat migraine and for 150 years people suffering from migraine have been using the same treatment. Several research studies such as this one report that cold therapy can decrease inflammation and provide pain relief. This study found that cold packs were helpful in about 71% of headache cases. Ice packs can help numb the pain as they reduce the swelling. The Huggaroo Ice Comfort has nine ice packs and provides cool relief for headache pain. It has an adjustable hook and loop fastener closure for a perfect fit. It is reversible with a silky, extra cold side and a fluffy, cozy side for lighter, more gentle cold therapy.
You Are Not Alone
If you are experiencing migraine headaches, please know you are not alone. Reach out. There are lots of migraine support groups online that share tools and tips for dealing with migraine. My Chronic Brain is a free, digital magazine for Chronic Migraine sufferers with helpful, insightful information.
Please do not suffer alone. It is worth it to reach out to your doctor today about the steps that you can take to help mediate your migraine. The sooner you have that conversation, the sooner you will be able to find some relief. Consider a Huggaroo microwaveable heating pad for your head, a neck and shoulder wrap for tense muscles or a weighted eye mask as natural remedies to help alleviate your migraine symptoms today. Feel free to contact us with any questions that you may have about Huggaroo's products. We are happy to help.