Are migraine attacks wrecking havoc on your life? Do you find it hard to live a normal life because of the debilitating pain and the sickening nausea that follows? What you need is a cure that doesn’t sap you of all your energies, while also proving to be effective…even if momentarily.
If you have been a migraine sufferer for a while now, you already know that there is no proven cure for migraine in medical science. It’s a condition you have to learn to live with…for life. But instead of trying to ignore the fact that you have a serious problem on hand and get through day-to-day life with a little help from pain killers, it is better to learn to live a better life with migraines by making a few modifications in your lifestyle.
I have personally lived with chronic migraine for over 12 years now. They started when I was 18 years old and only got worse with time. I tried everything possible, especially because my migraines are not sporadic or only linked to my menstrual cycle. I get a migraine every single day. And sometimes, I have more than one attack a day. But through the years, I have learned to live better with migraines. I accept them to be a part of my life, and I have tried my best to modify my lifestyle to be able to live a more fulfilling, satisfying life that isn’t marred by debilitating pain and nausea every day, or living with the fear that the next migraine attack could be just round the corner.
Migraine is a common episodic disorder that comes with a disabling headache, which can be in only one side of the head, or even both. Associated symptoms include light sensitivity, sound sensitivity and nausea. A neurological disorder, experts believe that migraines are caused by the enlargement of blood vessels that trigger the release of certain chemicals from nerve fibers that coil around the arteries and blood vessels in the brain, and this triggers an attack that last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours at a time. Migraine headaches activate the sympathetic nervous system, which controls automatic responses to stress and pain, or the well-known “fight or flight” response. The activation of this response causes many of the symptoms that often accompany a migraine headache, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Even if you have only just been diagnosed with migraine, it is important to find an effective treatment as soon as possible. Studies have shown that people who have episodic migraines and do not get adequate treatment are more likely to develop chronic migraines. Episodic Migraines are those that occur infrequently, and according to medical science, if you have 14 or fewer migraines a month you fall in this category. However, those who have 15 or more migraines a month suffer from Chronic Migraines. You can read more about this study here.
Chronic Migraine is a distinctive sub-type of migraine and affects a smaller percentage of the population. However, for those who have over 15 migraine attacks a month, life can become very challenging. Due to the nature and length of time that the sufferer is affected, people with chronic migraine experience significantly more time absent from work, school, leisure, housework and social activities than episodic migraine patients. Efficiency is also reduced due to chronic migraine, resulting in a more than 50% reduction in productivity from work or school. This is often described as a migraine ‘hangover’ by sufferers.
The impact of chronic migraine can be very disabling. Being incapacitated for over half the month sometimes means that people are unable to work at all, with some claiming disability living allowance. Unfortunately, in many cases, current therapies are not enough to prevent or reduce the impact that chronic migraine has on people’s lives. This can lead to sufferers frequently becoming depressed and unable to cope. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized the impact of migraine worldwide and categorized it as the same level of disability as dementia, quadriplegia and acute psychosis. Furthermore WHO has classified chronic migraine as more disabling than blindness, paraplegia angina and rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Making Your Migraine Worse?
Anyone who has ever suffered from a migraine attack knows how debilitating and disabling the pain can become. While most sufferers only want to find effective relief from the pain and other symptoms of the attack, it is equally important to also get down to the root cause of the pain, so that you are better able to prevent future attacks. Since there is no long-term cure for migraine, prevention is your best choice.
Now, migraine can be exacerbated or triggered by a number of reasons. Some of the common migraine triggers include:
– Poor diet
– Lack of sleep
– Certain scents
– Bright lights, especially sunlight
– Menstruation cycles
– Certain foods
– Lifestyle choices
– Extreme climatic conditions – both hot and cold
– Alcohol and certain drugs
Pain Killers Can Do More Harm Than Good In The Long Run
Since migraine has no permanent treatment, I can tell you from personal experience that the right treatment for you will begin with YOU. You have to pay closer attention to your attacks, and be able to analyze what your triggers and symptoms are, so that you can find a holistic long term migraine treatment. Pain medication is not the final answer; you need to take a closer look at your lifestyle and try to understand ‘What’ is causing the pain and how you can address it with a holistic approach. Why, you may ask?
Visit any doctor and he/she will prescribe common painkillers for your migraine. There is nothing wrong with them, not in the beginning at least. All of these OTC medications – ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin and acetaminophen will help relieve the pain. Some special migraine medications have added caffeine to give a quick jolt to your brain and relieve pain faster for sufferers. There are specialized migraine drugs too, usually known as ‘Triptans’ that ease the pain soon and provide relief. However, there is a problem with this approach, one that I am painfully aware of from personal experience.
Pain killers can bring relief from the pain, but they are never the right solution. For those who have more than 2 migraine attacks a week, pain killers can in fact become the very cause of pain in the long run. Migraine suffers are known to overuse pain medication. We aren’t doing it for fun or for kicks, we are merely trying to survive the painful migraine attack.
But here is the harsh truth: Using over-the-counter pain pills more than twice a week, or taking migraine-easing Triptans more than 17 times a month can eventually cause “rebound” migraines, warn German researchers. It has been estimated that up to 73% of chronic migraine patients over use headache medications. This may result in further complications, so it is important that if use of acute medication becomes daily, then help should be sought from their GP or neurologist. Sadly, currently there is no known cure for chronic migraine, although there are some new treatment options under investigation for the prevention of some types of migraine including chronic migraine.
Health care professionals have known for decades that patients with headache disorders may make their headaches worse by overusing painkilling medication. In the United States, experts believe 30% to 80% of patients new to headache clinics suffer from medication overuse headaches. And in Britain, authorities believe more than one million people experience such headaches frequently.
What is worse is that pain killers overuse in women especially leads to unwanted weight gain. After all, 3 out of every 4 migraine sufferer is a woman. The weight gain results in hormone imbalances. As hormones go crazy, more migraines are triggered throughout the menstrual cycle. It’s almost a never ending cycle – the cure has become the cause, and you are at the mercy of a depressing migraine attack more often than you can cope with.
Long Term Migraine Treatment
Most people who suffer from frequent migraines can detect the warning signs long before the headache becomes severe enough to incapacitate them. I know that I do; I can feel the tension in the back of my head and a dull throb at the base of my head that tells me well in advance that an impending migraine attack is in store for me. If you are able to detect these signs (I believe that these vary from person to person, so you will have to pay better attention to your personal symptoms to be able to know of a coming migraine well in advance), you can take necessary steps to ensure that the attack is as mild and manageable as possible.
To treat my migraine in a more holistic way that didn’t leave me dependent on pain killers every day, I realized that I had to be more clued in to signs my body sends to me. I closely studied my lifestyle, diet, exercise and alcohol intake to find triggers. Then I tried a variety of home remedies to treat migraine when an attack presented itself. Some were very successful in bringing relief without using painkillers, some not as much. But all of them are worth a try to find out if they help you out.
1. Drink a hot cup of tea – When you feel a migraine attack looming, a warm beverage can work wonders. Migraines tense up your body; while the calming effect of the warm tea will help you relax a little.
I recommend chamomile, mint or another herbal concoction. I don’t recommend tea with milk and sugar as that can accelerate stomach acidity, which can worsen a migraine and the nausea that follows. Simple herbal tea with honey is the best.
2. Hot and Cold Compress – By using a hot or cold compress, you will find instant relief from the tension building up in the cervical area. You can use a heating pad and lie down in a quiet, dark room if the migraine has snuck up on you undetected.
The warmth from the heating pad will relieve the pressure and reduce the pain, while lying in a quiet dark room will prevent the pain from getting any worse.
3. Try a hot shower – Over the years, I have found that this simple trick always works. Whether you detect a migraine attack coming or already have a full-blown headache, standing under a hot shower (water should be as hot as you can tolerate) always helps me.
Let the hot water penetrate into your neck. Stay in the shower for as long as you need. The more the hot water penetrates into your neck and throbbing areas, the more pressure will be relieved. Repeat the showers as often as needed. This is one migraine home remedy I use all the time. If I feel a headache coming, I take a hot shower. The relief is quick.
4. Drink water – Sometimes, dehydration will bring with it a crazy migraine attack. So if you feel the pain starting to grow, keep drinking water and other fluids. There is no substitute for water.
When you are thirsty, it is not for coffee or soda, but water and only water. When you drink anything else, you need more water to flush that out. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. Also, eating more vegetables and juicing are the best ways to correct nutritional deficiencies and correct your body’s pH.
5. Supplements help – If your diet is unbalanced, some supplements can be very effective in preventing migraines. My doctor advised me to take Vitamin B2, Vitamin B12, Magnesium and Fish Oil.
Make sure your diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables so that you don’t have nutritional deficiencies that could be contributing to your frequent migraines.
6. Try breathing exercises – When you feel a migraine coming, take long slow breaths. It helps relaxes you, increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain, and helps you feel better instantly.
If that doesn’t work, you must go and lie down immediately. Closing your eyes makes a huge difference!
7. Use vapo-rub – It’s a known fact that peppermint oil can bring relief from both headache and nausea. One day while I was in the throes of a really bad migraine pain, I tried some Vicks vapo-rub and it worked like magic. Rub a little on your nostrils and your temples and lie down. The refreshing fragrance instantly makes you feel like you can breathe more freely, and hence relaxes your body and quells the nausea.
Also, an inhaler helps a lot, the kinds you would use for a blocked nose. Inserting something in your nose can bring instant relief, because the nostrils are filled with tiny nerve endings. As you rub the inhaler inside your nostrils, the fresh minty scent along with the pressure action will help with the pain. Try it!
8. Steam inhalation – Steam inhalation with a few drops of peppermint oil has a two pronged effect. Steam will work much like a heating pad – the warmth permeates through your head and helps relieve the intense pain and pressure in all the throbbing areas.
Adding the peppermint oil further helps relax you and offers relief from nausea.
9. Find your food triggers – Most migraine sufferers have a few food triggers. However, the trick is to find an online list of common migraine triggers and exclude them from your diet one by one to find out which ones could be the culprit.
Most common triggers are caffeine, chocolate, cheese, nuts, artificial sweeteners, processed meat products, alcohol, food additives and canned foods. Once you know your triggers, you can completely eliminate them from your diet. It’s the perfect prevention strategy that is very much under your control!
10. Eat a balanced diet – Migraines can get worse with hunger pangs and cravings. I have successfully derived an eating pattern, wherein I eat 5-6 small meals a day. If I miss a snack or am late in getting lunch, a migraine is guaranteed.
It’s all about finding that perfect balance. Don’t skip meals, don’t try to follow restrictive diets, and don’t starve yourself.
11. Exercise everyday – Exercise is our body’s natural pain medication. When you work out, you release endorphins that can really help with the pain.
Even when I have a mild migraine headache that is bearable and doesn’t leave me incapacitated, I go out for a walk in the fresh air. I usually come back home, 45 minutes later, pain-free.
12. Hydrotherapy – This is easy, and it works. Contrast showers help with many ailments. Stand in water as hot as you can stand for two minutes (this increases blood flow to the skin), then as cold as you can stand for two minutes (this sends blood to the core of the body). Alternate back and forth for 20 minutes to increase blood flow and circulation, bringing more nutrients to organs and carrying away toxins.
Another way to use water to help with a migraine is to put your feet in very cold water and a hot rag on the back of your neck. This helps bring the blood down out of your head, by sending it to your feet.
13. Establish a healthy sleep routine – Sleep and migraines have a complicated relationship. If you sleep for fewer hours a night, you get a migraine. If you oversleep, you again get a migraine. But balance here is the key! You have to find out what the ideal sleeping hours are for you, if you want to prevent migraine attacks that come from lack of sleep (and trust me, they are one of the commonest!).
Set a regular sleep schedule. Give yourself eight hours in bed each night (I have realized I need 9 hours of sleep everyday to feel refreshed and stay active all day long), and keep your bedtime and wake-up time consistent all week. Avoid going to bed extra early if you’re just going to use the time to lie awake. These steps help ensure that the sleep you get is deep and steady, and more restful.
14. Alternative therapies – I have found that some alternative therapies can help alleviate pain and in fact, prevent migraines too. I found yoga and meditation to be very helpful, especially when done first thing in the morning. It prevented stress. Since the body undergoes a series of complex asanas, it becomes limber and flexible and this reduces chances of tension building up in your cervical area, which is caused by sitting at your work desk and staring in to your computer screen for long hours. I also find aromatherapy helpful on some occasions – using oils like lavender, neroli, peppermint, sandalwood and eucalyptus in an oil diffuser can work wonders. The scents linger in the air, and keep a mild headache from turning in to a full-blown migraine attack.
However, I have had the most success with Homeopathic medication. It works as both a preventive and cure, has no side effects, and when taken religiously for a few weeks can keep you migraine free on most days! I do have bad days with migraines despite the homeopathic medicines, especially during menstruation. But I have more migraine-free days now than I ever did before. It’s definitely worth a try.
Migraine has played a major role in my life – my career choices, my lifestyle choices, even my social life. And if you find yourself on the same boat as me, I hope this article about my journey to live a better life with migraine will be helpful to you too. As I always say, “It’s the little things that make a big difference”. So go ahead, give some of these simple tips a shot, and maybe you will be able to prevent a migraine attack from ruining a romantic date planned out with your partner, or cut short a trip to the mall you had been looking forward to all week. Yes, that’s the reality of living with migraine. The possibility that any plan can go down the drain with an unexpected attack, the fear that an important occasion will become rather unbearable because you are also battling acute headache and depressing nausea on the side.
But if you can try to understand your migraine – figure out what the triggers are, what simple home remedies could bring slight relief, and which techniques can help subside the pain or make it a little more bearable, you will find that living with migraine doesn’t have to be a constant challenge; an on-going battle in your life that leaves you too tired to enjoy the small joys of life.
Has migraine taken over your life? Do you feel like you are being robbed of a normal life because you are a migraine sufferer? Have you tried any holistic remedies to help you deal with the pain? I hope you will find some of my tips helpful. And if you do, please do write in and share your experiences!