No one likes headaches, but a migraine can be more than uncomfortable; it can be debilitating. Migraines are more extreme than most headaches and affect more than three million people a year.
Migraines can begin at any age, but most develop during childhood or early adulthood. Migraines usually occur more often in women than men. The diagnosis of a migraine can be determined based on reported history, clinical history, or by ruling out other causes.
There are different types of migraines, including common migraines, which are migraines without aura, and classic migraines, which are migraines with an aura.
Migraines can be associated with accompanying symptoms like vomiting, blurring of vision, tingling, or numbness. In some instances, headaches may be more frequent and occur almost daily.
Different Types of Migraines
Depending on the signs and symptoms, migraines are classified as:
- Classic migraines: starts with a warning sign, called an aura. Flashing lights, bright spots or zigzag lines and colors may be seen. Symptoms may last for 5 to 15 minutes or longer.
- Common migraines: don’t start with an aura and may start slowly or last longer.
Migraine Causes and Triggers
The exact cause of a migraine is unknown, but it is considered to be related to blood vessel contractions and other changes in the brain. It is also thought to be due to inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain. Impulses sent from hyperactive nerve cells in the brain cause the blood vessels to constrict, followed by expansion. Inflammatory substances like prostaglandins and serotonin are released, which cause painful pulsation. Studies have also suggested that migraine headaches are related to dry eye disease.
Various factors may trigger a migraine attack. Some of the triggers are:
- Foods such as chocolate, cheese, alcohol, nuts, preservatives, dairy, wheat.
- Bright and flickering lights
- Physical or emotional stress
- Loud noises
- Unpleasant smells, strong scents
- Hormonal changes in women during a menstrual cycle
- Changes in the weather
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Alcohol and smoking
A migraine headache starts as a dull ache and may get worse within minutes to hours. An aura, or vision disturbances, are considered a warning sign that a migraine is coming and can last anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes. An aura may involve a temporary blind spot, blurred vision, eye pain, seeing stars or zigzag lines and/or tunnel vision.
However, not every person with migraines has an aura and a headache may not always follow an aura. Some of the symptoms of a migraine include:
- A throbbing, pounding or pulsating pain, which is worse on one side of the head
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue, numbness, tingling, or weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Chills or sweating
- Problems concentrating
Diagnosis of a migraine usually depends on the symptoms. Assessing the pattern of development of a headache, family history, and response to analgesics can help diagnose a migraine. Neurological tests may be done to rule out diseases of the brain or nerves, such as epilepsy or multiple sclerosis.
How to Treat a Migraine
If you are struggling with a headache, don’t worry because there are numerous solutions you can use to help combat those painful symptoms. From self-care to natural remedies we have listed multiple treatments that can help relieve your migraine pain below:
Self-Care for Migraines
- Relaxing in a quiet and dark room
- Applying cold compresses over your forehead
- Massaging the scalp with pressure to help reduce stress and relieve tension
- Applying pressure on temples
Medications for Migraines
There are two approaches to treat a migraine – abortive and preventive.
- The goal of abortive therapy is to stop a headache once it starts. Over-the-counter painkillers can help relieve mild to moderate pain. Severe pain may need prescription medicine. Triptans, also known as 5HT1 agonists, specifically target serotonin and help relieve severe migraine pain.
- If migraines occur frequently or if symptoms are severe, a preventive approach can be used. It aims to lessen the frequency and severity of the attacks. Preventive treatment medications include medications used to treat high blood pressure, antidepressants, and antiseizure medications.
Additionally, drugs like metoclopramide and prochlorperazine may be used to relieve nausea related to those headaches.
Nerve Stimulation to Help Treat Migraines
Neurostimulation has been promising in the treatment of intractable chronic migraines.1 Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive brain stimulation technique based on magnetic fields, has been shown to be effective as an acute treatment for a migraine with aura.2
Alternative Therapies and Natural Remedies for a Migraine
- Ayurveda believes that an imbalance in the three doshas – vata, pitta, and kapha – can result in a disease. According to Ayurvedic principals, a migraine is a result of an imbalance in the vata and pitta doshas. Herbs like Brahmi (Indian Pennywort), Shankhpushpi (English Speed-wheel), Jatamansi (Spikenard), can be used to help correct this imbalance and help relieve migraine symptoms. In Ayurveda, coriander seeds added to hot water can also be used as an inhalation remedy for curing headaches.
- Homeopathy is another alternative for migraine treatment. When using this treatment you will notice the severity and occurrences of a migraine may becoming less intense over time. Some of the homeopathic remedies that can be used are Glonoine, Belladonna, Sangunaria, etc.
- Herbal therapies such as feverfew and Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) have been shown to be effective in managing migraines. Butterbur is an effective and well-tolerated preventive treatment for migraines. Several studies have supported that the use of feverfew, a popular medicinal plant traditionally used for the treatment of fevers, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, etc., is extremely effective for treating migraines. Peppermint leaves, which contain menthol, have a strong action against pain and can also help relieve nausea. Ginger tea with a few drops of honey and lime juice could be helpful too. Lavender oil may be useful in treating migraines that have been triggered by stress and anxiety.
- In Acupuncture, very thin needles are placed into the skin at specific points on the body. An illness, according to acupuncture, can be caused whenever the chi, which is the bio-energy or life force, of the external environment is disturbed or when one’s internal chi, meaning the body-mind complex, is not in harmony. Correcting the outer environment and stimulating the acupoints releases pain-reducing chemicals and helps eliminate pain.
What Foods Should You Eat to Prevent a Migraine
Research has shown a surprising correlation between migraines and the food we consume. Certain foods can trigger migraines while others can help to prevent them. Listed below are foods that can help prevents future headaches and keep migraines at bay:
- Cooked green vegetables like broccoli, Swiss Chard, spinach, and collard greens
- Rice (especially brown rice)
- Cooked orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes
- Cooked or dried, non-citrus fruits: cherries, pears, cranberries, prunes
- Water: plain or carbonated water
Talk to Your Doctor
Migraines aren’t just another headache; they are more of a throbbing pain rather than a dull constant ache. Migraines are accompanied by nausea, inability to speak, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sounds.
There are multiple treatments you can utilize for a migraine, but determining which category your migraine falls under will help your treatment be more effective. Migraines are self-diagnosable and self-treatable, but it’s always important to check in with your doctor to determine which treatment is best for you.
How many migraines are too many?
Most migraine sufferers experience attacks once or twice a month. If your migraines exceed more than 10 migraines a month, then it is more than likely that you are suffering from chronic migraines and it is recommended to see your doctor.
How many Excedrin should I take for my migraines?
Each caplet of Excedrin Extra Strength pain reliever has 250 mg (milligrams) of acetaminophen, 250 mg of aspirin, and 65 mg of caffeine. A typical dose for adults and children older than 12 is two pills every six hours.
How are migraines diagnosed?
The diagnosis of a migraine can be determined based on reported history, clinical history, or by ruling out other causes.
How often do migraines occur?
Migraines can occur as often as several times a week to only once a year. If you are experiencing migraines several times a week, you might be suffering from chronic migraines and should see a doctor.
How to prevent a migraine?
In order to prevent a migraine, you would have to avoid migraine triggers. Try to monitor what you eat, try not to skip meals, skip the caffeine, get regular sleep, and learn how to cope with stress.
Brighina F, Cosentino G, Fierro B. Brain stimulation in migraine. Handb Clin Neurol. 2013;116:585-98. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-53497-2.00047-4. Review. PubMed PMID: 24112926.
Lipton RB, Pearlman SH. Transcranial magnetic simulation in the treatment of migraine. Neurotherapeutics. 2010 Apr;7(2):204-12. doi: 10.1016/j.nurt.2010.03.002. Review. PubMed PMID: 20430320.
Lipton RB, Göbel H, Einhäupl KM, Wilks K, Mauskop A. Petasites hybridus root (butterbur) is an effective preventive treatment for migraine. Neurology. 2004 Dec 28;63(12):2240-4. PubMed PMID: 15623680.
Pittler MH, Ernst E. Feverfew for preventing migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD002286. Review. PubMed PMID: 14973986.