Of all the things I could have done that evening, I actually chose to attend a lecture on migraines. An unusual choice to spend my evening, perhaps. But, if you have ever experienced a migraine (and read on to make sure that is what it really is), you would understand why I would spend my time doing so. Most migraine suffers would want to do anything, and I mean anything, to exit it from your day (or days as they can last for days!). Not only do I suffer an occasional one (and they last for days), but I have people in my life that suffer rather frequently from them. So, a lecture on migraines? You bet!
I primarily wanted to attend to see if there was any new research on methods to help. I discovered there is. So, please, if you or someone you care about deals with migraine headaches and the debilitating effect they can have on your life, please read on.
IS THIS REALLY A MIGRAINE OR SOMETHING ELSE?
A term migraine can be thrown around loosely to describe a bad headache, but there are particular characteristics that distinguish a migraine from other types of headaches. The International Headache Society (yes, it actually exists!) lists these criteria for your headaches to be considered a migraine:
- You have had at least five headaches.
- The headaches last greater than four hours.
- The head pain is accompanied by nausea/vomiting or photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- Each of the headaches has at least two of the following characteristics:
- moderate to severe in pain
- aggravated by physical exertion
And as if those symptoms were not enough, migraine headaches can also have phases like the ones described below. Not everyone experiences them but some of these symptoms like in the prodrome phase, or preheadache, can warn you a migraine is in the making and you may be able to stop it.
Here are the four potential phases of a migraine attack and a bit about each phase:
1. The prodrome phase, or preheadache phase, may be experienced hours or even days before a migraine attack warning that a migraine is imminent. Not everyone experiences them but it could be helpful to familiarize yourself with these symptoms in case you do recognize a pattern:
- difficulty concentrating, reading or speaking
- digestive issues
- food cravings
- increased thirst
- increased urination
- sensitivity to light and sound
- sleep issues
- stiff neck
2. The visual distortions of the possible aura phase vary and again, not everyone experiences them. Here are some of the possible symptoms:
- flashing lights or spots
- wavy lines
- partial loss of sight
- blurry vision or even total blindness in one eye
- motor weakness
- intense hiccups
- neck pain
3. The headache phase is pretty self-explanatory – painful! It’s effects are not limited to the head only, but can affect the whole body. Symptoms include these below:
- headache pain on one side that can shift from side to side or both sides
- pain worse with physical exertion
- sensitivity to light and noise
- pain in the areas of the eyes, sinuses, and jaw
- lasts from 1-72 hours.
- neck pain
- nausea and vomiting
- digestive issues
- nasal congestion and/or runny nose
- depression, anxiety
4. You may think this ordeal is over, but wait! There is more. Once the headache phase is over, symptoms can still remain. The symptoms of the postdrome phase may include:
- lowered mood
- poor concentration and comprehension
WHAT CAN TRIGGER A MIGRAINE?
The list of possible ways a migraine can be set off is long but some migraine suffers can establish their own triggers like these that can bring on a migraine. Perhaps one or two of these causes yours or maybe there is one on the list that you have not thought of:
- erratic sleep
- hormonal fluctuations
- overuse of headache medications
- certain weather conditions
- particular foods like chocolate, MSG, aged cheese, smoked meats, caffeine, aspartame, alcohol, sulfates in wine and dark vinegar, citrus
- infections with Lyme or Epstein Barr Virus
- sleep apnea
- environmental exposure to molds
WHY RELYING ON MEDICATION IS NOT A GOOD SOLUTION FOR MIGRAINES
There are plenty of over the counter and prescription drugs to help with migraine pain and they can work miracles; however, overuse of them (more than twice a month) can actually cause future migraines, rebound migraines or, worse, the drugs can stop working. So, if you a frequent sufferer and don’t like to take prescriptions like me, there are some non-drug therapies that can help to avoid one in the first place:
- avoiding your triggers
NEW THERAPIES TO HELP WITH MIGRAINE PAIN
1. A new headband. Last year the FDA approved the Cephaly headband for those who do not want to use medications or the medications are no longer working. Cephaly treats migraine pain with neurostimulation addressing pain signals from the nerve center where migraine headaches start. Here is a link with more information as well as a review of the device, too.
2. Ditch the carbs. A Ketogenic diet or eating foods with low carbohydrates and higher fats have shown a potential aide to migraines. Here is more information on that as well as here, too, that you may want to pursue. A hypothesis is the ketone produced on a ketogenic diet might effectively help regulate glutamate which can be involved with migraines.
3. The right touch. Cranial therapy is based on therapeutic touch to help regulate the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and manipulate the joints of the cranium or skull, which can be effective in the treatment of migraines. To do this, a practitioner will apply light touches to a patient’s skull, face, spine, and pelvis. Here is a link and here too with a bit more about it and that may help you find a practitioner in your area. Some call this quackery, but I know someone who this absolutely cured him of his intense period of severe, daily headaches.
4. Optimal levels of minerals and vitamins. Magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B-2), and coenzyme Q10 all have been studied to show some potential benefit to migraine sufferers. Here is lots more information on that to see if you might want to consider that approach.
Do you or anyone you know suffer from migraines? Have you discovered anything that helps? Please share in the comments!
- Massage can be a great aide to avoid migraines.
- Lack of sleep can be a migraine trigger. Here in this study telling you just how much you need.
Lecture at The Kaplan Center