Let’s start with the Basics.
What is a migraine?
Using the words of a friend, to experience a migraine “stare at a light bulb for about one minute, then go on a roller coaster followed by spinning in a circle for 5 minutes.”
In short, it is a strong headache, often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. More often than not, migraines are localized in one side of the head.
This is a chronic problem that affects more than 3 million Americans per year. It is also more common in women than in men and it is more likely to occur in people aged from 15 to 55. It is thought to be linked with genetics since it is not uncommon at all for those that suffer from migraines to have family members who also suffer with the condition.
In any case, you should understand that migraines are a serious problem and you can and should discuss them with your doctor. The goal of this article is to outline some strategies that can help you recognize and get rid of migraines.
What causes a migraine?
Migraines are, to a great extent, a genetically determined disorder that once manifests itself, will continue for years if not for decades. During those years, even though headaches might seem to occur spontaneously, they are often reportedly precipitated by events or factors, known as triggers, which create a pattern leading to a migraine.
The 4 most acknowledged headache triggers are stress, fatigue, not eating on time, and lack of sleep. There are some alternate suggestions out there however as to the cause of migraines.
For stress much has been written about it, because, very counterintuitively, migraine will occur after rather than during stress, when the body relaxes. And additional trigger, that only applies to woman is the menstrual cycle. This is also probably the reason why there is such a difference in numbers of woman vs man migraine sufferers.
By themselves, a trigger is normally necessary but not sufficient to create a migraine. Thus it is important to try and see the global picture about all those factors. In the reviewed literature, there is strong evidence that for example the premenstrual phase has a magnifying effect on stress-migraine interaction.
The same can be said about low sleep duration, when stress and low-sleep duration will probably result also in migraines. For women, out of all the possible triggers, menstruation has been identified as the probably the only trigger that is sufficient by itself. By understanding those triggers, one can start to look at options to change behaviors that can impact or reduce the onset of migraines. Because in the end, there are good news for migraine sufferers.
The good news?
It is possible to get rid of a migraine. As outlined in the last paragraph, the first step to get rid of a migraine is trying to understand what is causing them. Why? Because the best remedy is not to get one in the first place. You should look into your specific case and try to find which are your migraine triggers. Try to answer all these questions:
- (If you are a woman) Where in your menstrual cycle are you?
- Do you sleep well?
- Do you eat well? And on time?
- Are you tired?
- Have you been stressed? Either because of work or personal situations?
For example, for A. above, do you know if you are magnesium deficient? Recent research found that about half of women who suffer from migraines can be deficient in magnesium. This is even more relevant for women whose migraines are closely associated with their monthly cycles and those who experience auras. You should ask your doctor to check your blood levels of magnesium and perhaps try some magnesium supplements.
Another a recent study found that people with migraine were more likely to have low intake of chocolate, ice cream, hot dogs, and processed meats. Those who experience migraine at least once per week were more likely to have low intake of skim/low-fat milk and white and red wine. Ask yourself, are you eating well and on time? To help fight migraines you should definitely look into having a routine set and avoid skipping any meals!
Strategies to get rid of a migraine
- (For Women) Check your menstrual cycle
If your migraines are closely tied to your menstrual cycle, you should probably discuss with your doctor if there are any options regarding hormonal therapy that could help you cope with your episodes. Estrogen levels are a known factor causing migraines, so your doctor could either recommend you to take the pill, or to try a different approach.
- Check your blood
As outlined above, several cases of migraines can be linked with nutritional deficiencies. Several studies have linked migraine with deficits in magnesium, serotonin, vitamin B2, etc, so it is important that you understand where you are standing today and maybe consider taking some supplements.
If your migraines are stress induced, consider either improving your lifestyle, or at least, introducing some relaxing therapies into your daily life. You could consider for example daily meditation or yoga or acupuncture. This should help you relax and thus reduce the onset of migraines.
- Eat and Sleep
It is increasingly easier to forget and skip a meal or to delay going to bed. If you are a migraine sufferer you should definitely make an effort to try and eat and sleep well. Both aspects are well known triggers and dealing with them should be an important first step to deal with migraines.
This one goes along with the above items. The overall goal should be to try and have a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is important to help cope with stress, and to the body functions properly.
There a number of natural herbal supplements that are known to have a positive impact on migraines and should be worth testing out:
- Butterbur (Petasites hybridus, 50 – 75 mg of a standardized extract 2 times per day) – Several studies have suggested that this extract can help reduce the frequency and duration of migraines when taken regularly for up to 4 months. For this plant it is important to find a standardized extract, since there some substances in the herb that potentially harm the liver and interact with other medications. If you want to try butterbur for your migraines, ask your doctor about a safe extract and dose. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take butterbur. If you are allergic to ragweed may find that you are sensitive to butterbur as well.
- Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium, 50 to 80 mg per day) – Feverfew has been used in popular medicine to treat headaches, and several studies found that it may help prevent and treat migraines. Nevertheless, feverfew can increase the risk of bleeding, and should not be taken with blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) or clopidogrel (Plavix). Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take feverfew. If you are allergic to ragweed, you may also be allergic to feverfew. Since there is not much research about the safety of long-term use of feverfew so work with a knowledgeable prescriber.
Overall, you should focus on identifying what is causing your migraine and try to avoid it. Unfortunately, sometimes it will be not possible at all. Since you are not alone in this fight, try to eat well, sleep well and relax. Also, speak with a trusted health professional about more natural treatments to help you deal with the worst episodes.