Extremely unpleasant and painful, migraines are very common and involve a throbbing pain that recurs in one side of the head. Most of the time, migraines don’t stop by unaccompanied. Migraine symptoms can include sound or light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. It’s not uncommon for patients dealing with migraines to also experience visual irregularities such as flashes, blind spots or shimmering lights.
What is a migraine?
Scientists are still looking for information on what migraines are, what causes them and how we could completely eradicate them. Despite knowing little about them, migraines are widespread and can be experienced by anyone who is over 15 years old. Roughly 12% of the US population struggles with recurring migraine headaches. The great majority of patients can easily pinpoint the triggers or circumstances under which migraines start. These include high levels of stress, allergies, and even light. With enough knowledge and preparation, acting on these warning signs can prevent migraine attacks. Studies show that migraines affect more women than men, with sufferers experiencing the symptoms for up to six months at a time. The most accurate definition for a migraine describes it as a headache owed to unusual brain activity. In its turn, this causes a short-term alteration at the level of the nerve signals and blood flow within the brain.
Difference between migraines and headaches?
Unlike headaches, migraines have a very distinct feel to them. Headaches will typically be associated with an ache in your head that comes on before, during, or after a bout of sickness. Oftentimes, if you treat a headache with ibuprofen, you may be able to relieve some of the discomforts. Migraines, may not always respond to medications like these. In some cases, a headache may be accompanied by fever, chills, and body aches. This is simply an indicator that your body is fighting off a virus. With migraines, this is not so much the case. Instead, you will find that with a migraine, the pain can be so severe and numbing that your body might feel the urge to throw up. Many who experience migraines will tell you that their migraines will sometimes be accompanied by nausea.
You can distinguish that you have a migraine if you feel a pulsating and throbbing pain in your head. It can happen to one side of your head, localized in the front, and at times be more towards the back. A migraine will not come on suddenly, instead, you can expect the pain to grow in severity over the course of a couple of hours. For some people, the severity is enough to make them throw up. If you find yourself having a sensitivity to lights and sounds, then this can be an indication that you are suffering from a migraine as well.
Main migraine triggers
The first step in addressing chronic migraines is to observe and identify the triggers in order to correctly manage the stimuli. The easiest method is to keep track of your headaches with the help of a calendar, jotting down the circumstances in which the migraines appear, the intensity of the pain as well as the length of the migraines. This should give you a rough indication of what sets off your aches and help you narrow down the suspects. Here is a list that will give you an idea on what you should be focusing on.
- Estrogen levels. Before the menstrual cycle begins, women will experience a sudden drop in estrogen levels. This hormonal change favors migraines and leaves women more vulnerable to headaches.
- Unbalanced diet. If you’re notorious for skipping meals, you should know this could be the number one culprit for migraines. Whenever you miss a meal, your blood sugar levels fluctuate and expose you to migraines. Follow a strict meal schedule and don’t go three hours without food in order to avoid headaches.
- Alcohol. You might dismiss headaches after a night of partying as a mere hangover, but that’s not always the case. If you always experience splitting headaches in the following 8 hours after consuming a certain type of alcohol, you’re probably dealing with an alcohol migraine trigger.
- All-nighters. We’ve all been schooled on the disadvantages of pulling all-nighters, and we’re about to add another one to the list. Migraines are bound to show up in patients who don’t have a consistent sleeping schedule. And no, picking up the slack on the weekends doesn’t count as a consistent sleep pattern.
- Certain foods. This is trickier to identify, especially if you’re keen on a particular food that you incorporate in your meals on a daily basis. You might want to keep an eye out for bananas, chocolate, coffee, peanut butter, onions, pickles and fermented or dairy products.
- Emotional stress. This includes depression, tension, and anxiety, but also excitement. Any emotion that is taken to an extreme is only setting the stage for an upsetting migraine attack.
- Too much stimulation. Another one of the most common culprits of migraines is too much stimulation. If you have a job where you spend hours staring at a computer screen, then the strain on your eyes can be an example of too much stimulation. Additionally, if you are someone who plays video games or scrolls through your phone endlessly before bed, then this stimulation can create a funk for your brain. Not giving your brain enough time to relax can be an indicator of too much stimulation that may eventually give way to a migraine.
Since migraines have a slew of causes and triggers are immensely subjective, so are the remedies. Only you can judge what will be able to help you and what assuages your aches. Try experimenting with some of these suggestions until your find what suits you best.
1. Lavender oil
Widely known for its aromatherapy attributes, lavender oil is the perfect candidate to help you relax when you’re experiencing a migraine attack. This oil has a distinctive smell and can be applied locally or inhaled. Never ingest lavender oil. For topical applications, lightly massage a few drops of lavender oil into your temples. For inhalations, add four drops to three cups of water. The vapor will act as a headache treatment and soothe your migraine.
2. Scalp massage
This is an excellent quick fix if you’re on the go or if you’re vacationing with no remedies at hand. Scalp massages can alleviate pain, especially when you focus on the occipital nerve, the area at the base of your skull. You don’t need reflexology experience for this, your body will let you know if you are hitting the right areas or not. If you can resort to professional masseurs, they will be able to focus on the reflex point in your hands and feet that can alleviate migraines.
It’s no secret anymore that food has a major impact on our overall health. Migraines are no exception to the rule. Pay attention to the types of food that promote splitting headaches and eliminate them from your diet, replacing dairy, bacon, red wine and citrus with fish, green vegetables, nuts, and seeds. These boost your immune system and promote a healthy blood flow, which will keep migraines at arm’s length.
4. Peppermint oil
Boasting vaso-dilating and vaso-constricting properties, peppermint oil is an easy home remedy for tension headaches. With a fresh smell, this oil helps regulate blood flow within the body. By helping blood vessels open and close in order to promote flow, peppermint oil can assuage pain as well as open the sinuses to allow more oxygen to reach the bloodstream.
If you’re dealing with headaches that stem from inflammation, you’ll need to increase your intakes of omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds will help you with this because they are rich in omega 3. They’re easy to incorporate in any meal plan since they can be eaten in their raw form, as an oil or ground. Easy to add to salads and shakes, flaxseeds have more benefits than alleviating migraines, including promoting a healthy digestion.
Studies have shown that daily consumption of feverfew relieves patients from pain after only a few days. An experiment carried out in the 80s found that 70% of the subjects experienced less pain after they were administered feverfew. More studies followed that supported the claim and proved the plant does indeed have properties that target headaches and assuage migraines.
7. Basil oil
It tastes good in spaghetti and pizza, but its benefits go beyond delighting our taste buds. With a strong, sharp smell, basil oil makes for an excellent muscle relaxant. Migraines can stem from tension and tight muscles, which makes basil oil a suitable adjuvant in the battle against headaches.
8. Ice packs
Ice acts as an anti-inflammatory remedy while heat only fuels migraines and headaches. An ice pack will alleviate the throbbing pain and potentially stop migraines altogether. If you don’t like putting something freezing on your head and face, you can achieve the same effect with cold compresses. Soak a small towel in ice water, squeeze out excess water and place the towel on the area that is hurting the most.
9. Relaxation techniques
Some of the most common causes of migraines are stress and anxiety. When headaches are caused by emotional reactions, the simplest way to treat and prevent migraine attacks is by learning how to relax. There are various methods to choose from. Tai chi, yoga, massages and stretching paired with deep breathing and meditation are the best allies against tension and stress build-ups.
Acupuncture is the natural alternative for over-the-counter migraine remedies and drugs. The best thing is that it doesn’t have any side effects, so even if you are reluctant about trying it, you don’t risk anything scheduling a single appointment. Acupuncture has been proven to offer relief from headaches and migraines.
Smoking, drinking, skipping meals and having a chaotic sleeping schedule are not doing you any favors. If you want to help your body prevent migraines, adopt a healthier lifestyle that involves plenty of exercising, a clean diet with as few processed foods as possible and a generous, fixed sleeping schedule. Don’t try changing everything overnight. Instead, break your goals into smaller tasks and start fighting migraines from within.
12. Fish oil
Packed with omega 3 fatty acids, fish oil could reduce pain and migraines. Just like flaxseeds, fish oil works from the inside, promoting heart health, fighting inflammation, blood clotting, regulating the hearth’s rhythm and decreasing blood pressure. All these together could combat and prevent migraines with the help of a single teaspoon of fish oil per day.
13. Ginger root
Ginger tea or ginger infused water is the ideal combination to keep your body hydrated and give it a boost to alleviate migraines. Ginger has a strong kick that can fight off nausea while its antioxidant properties are known to relief pain and inflammation.
We’re tired of hearing about the eight glasses of water per day rule, but we can’t ignore it either. Our bodies are in dire need of water in order to function properly. When we consume more alcohol, sodas, and coffee than water, the imbalance we create within our bodies can drastically affect different functions. Migraines can easily stem from this kind of imbalance. It’s funny to think that the remedy for migraines can be as simple as drinking water, but sometimes the best solution is also the simplest one.