Some 15% of us will experience a migraine attack at some point in our lives. Migraines last anywhere from 2 to 72 hours and are associated with other symptoms like vomiting, nausea and sensitivity to loud sound, light & certain smells. About one third of sufferers experience an aura, i.e., a transient abnormality in vision, movement, language disturbance, or a delusion.
Reasons for the Pain
Two theories prevail:
· The origin of the pain is in the brain, specifically in the trigeminal area and in the brain stem,
· Blood vessels around and near the brain dilate, thus putting pressure on the nerves that encircle these blood vessels.
While migraines do not increase the risk of death or permanent medical complications, those with aura increase the risk of strokes and can be debilitating. Sufferers often stay in a dark, quiet and secluded environment in excruciating pain — and wait.
Common causes of migraines are:
· Poor air quality
· Foods containing nitrates, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and tyramine
· Oscillating visual images
· Dairy products
· Peanut butter
· Fermented and/or pickled foods
· Caffeine withdrawal
· Menstruation, menopause
Since there can be so many dietary triggers, keeping a food and migraine diary is recommended. It can help identify food triggers so they can be avoided.
Treating the Pain
It’s best to start with natural remedies and trigger prevention before turning to prescription medications. This will mitigate the risks of side effects, even when a decreased dose of prescriptions meds can be paired with natural remedies & trigger prevention. Here are some natural options:
· Lavender oil — a dose of 3 drops per 2 cups of boiling water— as an inhalational therapy
· Basil oil added to food
· Feverfew taken daily in a tea, with or without white willow.
· Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and flaxseed) for brain health and decreased inflammation
· Scalp massage in the temporal (i.e., sides of the head) and occipital (back of the head at the base) areas
· Acupuncture and reflexology
The Prescription Route
On the standard medication side, we have anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs (which I discussed in my pain blog), triptans, ergotamines, beta blockers (such as propranolol, metoprolol and timolol), valproic acid, tricyclic anti-depressants (such as amitriptyline and venlafaxine), and angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors. These often involve side effects, the hassle of visiting the doctor and significant expenses.
Where to Begin
Keep a food diary to detect migraine triggers and then avoid those foods. If you still suffer from migraines, see your doctor, start at the lowest prescription dose possible and observe the effects. If that doesn’t help, increase the dose gradually at very small increments. This will decrease the risk of side effects, and help you save on costly prescriptions.
Wishing you a clear, pain-free head.