As a mom, the last thing you need is to be struck down by migraines that could leave you almost incapacitated for four to 72 hours. This is how long the typical severe throbbing headache, normally felt on one side of your head and accompanied by nausea, blurred vision, lightheadedness and sensitivity to sound and light can last. However, it can also last for longer and occur as often as 15 days per month. When this happens, you have what is known as a chronic migraine.
According to the World Health Organization, a migraine is a primary headache disorder that affects twice as many women as it does men worldwide, usually due to hormonal fluctuations. It is important to understand what causes your own severe headaches and how you can obtain migraine relief, as it is one of the most under-treated and underestimated brain conditions, as noted by the World Health Organization.
Migraines are common, affecting more than 36 million Americans, according to the American Migraine Foundation. With one in seven people being sufferers worldwide, this debilitating brain condition can be found in:
- 1 in 4 households
- 1 in 5 women specifically, and
- 1 in 11 children.
What Causes Migraines?
As migraines run in families, it seems that genetic factors play a role. In particular, they lower the brain's sensitivity to certain triggers and set off the pain response in the brain. They can also be triggered by:
- Certain foods (for example, processed foods as well as foods high in sodium and MSG) and alcoholic beverages
- A shift in hormones (such as during menopause)
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Lifestyle choices, such as a lack of sleep, being severely stressed or not protecting your eyes from computer screen glare
The net result is a combination of both brain and blood vessel changes. First, the brain's pain center is stimulated as it is hypersensitive to stimuli and has a lower threshold to other factors that can set off the throbbing. Then, nerve cell activity kicks in. As a result, the brain releases certain chemicals. Unfortunately, these chemicals inflame the blood vessels, as these tiny vessels then narrow and widen alternately. The pain gets much worse as the blood vessel inflammation only serves to send more pain signals to the pain structures deep in the brain.
Symptoms Of A Migraine Attack
As with many afflictions, it helps if you can catch a migraine early. During the early or prodrome stage, the alternative remedies and natural supplements that are found bring migraine relief can be of particular effectiveness. About 60% of sufferers experience some build-up symptoms as early as 48 hours before an actual attack due to hormonal and brain chemical changes. They occur for no apparent reason:
- Fatigue and constant yawning
- Frequent urination
- Constipation, nausea or diarrhea
- Neck stiffness
- Feeling very high or really low
- An inability to focus, memory lapses, confusion and irritability
This may be followed by an aura, which can occur before or in conjunction with painful pulsating on one side of your head:
- Partial loss of vision, blurred vision, seeing spots or shapes
- Pins and needles or loss of function of a limb
- Partial facial weakness
- Twitching or jerking
- Finding it difficult to speak or not making sense when you do speak.
Which Drugs May Bring Migraine Relief?
While increasing numbers of sufferers are turning to holistic ways and supplements to address chronic migraines, many first-time sufferers turn to conventional medicine. The class of drugs most commonly used to treat severe, demobilizing headaches are triptans. Triptans stimulate the brain to produce serotonin, which brings the swelling in the blood vessels back down. They pose health risks, though especially if you have a heart condition, as they affect blood flow. Drug classes such as Triptans may be effective short-term solutions, but don't prevent the number of attacks in the long term.
Tackling And Managing Migraines Holistically
Because migraines are chronic and last an average of three days at a time, exploring ways of preventing attacks in the first place are the first priority. A holistic approach involves avoiding trigger foods, making lifestyle changes, taking supplements to address nutrients that may be lacking (magnesium and Omega-3, for example) and using alternative remedies.
Which Foods Trigger Attacks?
Researchers believe that almost half of all attacks can be prevented by not eating foods that are processed, high in processed carbohydrates, sodium, additives and preservatives such as MSG and foods likely to cause an inflammatory response.
Typical foods to avoid include caffeine, any alcoholic beverage that gives you a headache, rich cheeses, cured and processed meats, white bread and pastries, aspartame and fast foods. Keeping a food diary and isolating the foods most closely related to your attacks is recommended so you know which foods to avoid.
Best Treatments For Migraine Relief
Research, sufferer feedback and studies have shown that getting more of the following nutrients either in supplement or food forms not only help migraines subside, but help break the cycle of recurring migraines:
- Magnesium - it controls blood flow and reduces inflammation. Eat spinach, bananas, avocados and yoghurt or take a supplement.
- Coenzyme COQ10 - this reduces cell damage. The Guardian reports that in a study group sufferers who took this supplement found their migraines declined by half.
- Omega-3 - these fatty acids have anti inflammatory properties and are also antioxidants. They protect the brain and heart in particular. Eat oily fish such as salmon and sardines or take a supplement.
- Vitamin B2 - in a study, patients who took 400 mg of vitamin B2 or riboflavin found that their number of attacks reduced significantly after 3 months.
The following herbal remedies have been found to reduce the actual symptoms for many sufferers:
- Feverfew or Tanacetum parthenium
- Butterbur, as recommended by the American Academy of Neurology
You could also look for a natural herbal migraine remedy, for example one incorporating the herbal remedies plus one or two of the recommended nutrients. Make sure though that the supplement you choose contains no fillers, binders, additives or preservatives as some of these, such as MSG, sodium, maltodextrin and potassium sorbate can all trigger distressing, debilitating headaches.
If you're a migraine sufferer - don't despair. With a few dietary and supplemental changes, some long-term migraine relief is in your reach.