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Migraine Headaches – There Is Hope

Migraine headaches are believed to be a complex, neurovascular disorder that affects about 15% of the global population at some point in life. In the U.S. it touches approximately 1 in 4 families, and 38 million Americans. 

The underlying causes of migraines are unknown; however, they are thought to be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. They run in families in about two-thirds of reported cases.

There are four stages of a migraine headache, although all people do not experience all of the stages. These stages include the Prodrome, Aura, Headache, and the Postdrome. 

The first phase is the Prodrome, occurring in about 60% of those with migraines. The Prodrome has an onset anywhere from two hours to one or two days before you experience a migraine, when you may begin to notice some subtle changes. These changes can include depression, constipation, food cravings, hyperactivity, irritability, stiffness in your neck, and sometimes uncontrollable yawning. Other changes may occur. Every person is unique.
The next phase is the Aura phase. An aura may occur immediately before the headache, hours before, or during the headache. Auras are usually visual disturbances, such as small flashes of light or silvery spots, or sometimes even temporary vision loss. An aura can also be in the form of sensory disturbances (pins and needles sensation in an arm or leg), motor disturbances (limb weakness), or verbal disturbances. When there is only an aura and no pain, which happens in rare cases, it is called an acephalgic, or silent migraine. 

The third phase is the Headache or Pain phase. The classic migraine headache is on one side of the head. It is a throbbing, pulsating pain. It is moderate to severe in intensity. It usually comes on gradually, and is intensified by physical activity of any type. In about 40% of the cases, the migraine pain may be felt on both sides of the head. Pain on both sides of the head is most often felt by those who have migraines without the aura. Less often, pain may occur in the back or top of the head. The pain usually lasts anywhere from 4 to 72 hours in adults, however in children, the pain may last less than 1 hour. The frequency of migraine attacks can be just a few in a lifetime, to several per week. The pain is often accompanied by sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. One may experience fatigue and irritability, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. In some migraines one can experience light-headedness, spinning, and confusion. Other symptoms may include blurred vision, nasal stuffiness, diarrhea, frequent urination, pallor, sweating, tenderness of the scalp, and neck stiffness. Every person is different and each new migraine headache can be different.

The last phase of a migraine headache is the Postdrome phase. The effects of a migraine headache may last for several days after the main phase of the headache has ended. Many people report a very sore feeling on their head and scalp where the headache had been. Many people may feel fatigue, weakness, impaired thinking, gastrointestinal disturbances, depression and mood changes for a few days after the headache has passed. Other people feel refreshed or euphoric after a migraine attack. These feelings can vary with each person, each time.

If think you are experiencing migraine headaches, please see your licensed, professional, healthcare provider. They will determine if you have migraine headaches by taking a health history, and by listening to your symptoms. They will make a proper diagnosis, and determine a treatment plan that is correct for your situation. The symptoms of a migraine can also be symptoms of other health issues, including a TIA, a stroke, or an aneurysm. It is important to check with your licensed, professional healthcare provider and discuss your symptoms to be sure that you are experiencing a migraine headache, and not another condition that may need attention. 

If it is determined that you indeed have migraine headaches, you may want to eliminate as many headache “triggers” (things that cause a migraine) as you can. Some of the common triggers are certain foods, such as chocolate, aged cheeses, citrus fruit, red wines, certain nuts, caffeine, bananas in certain people, MSG, food colorings, and preservatives. Other triggers are stress, sleep deprivation, fatigue, weather changes, exposure to chemicals and odors or perfumes, and bright lights. The list of triggers goes on and on. It is different for each individual. It is true, we cannot possibly eliminate all triggers, however, one can make a real effort to eliminate as many triggers as possible. 

There are many over the counter medications that may help relieve some of the pain, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which should only be used after a discussion with your licensed, professional healthcare provider. Please note that aspirin may thin the blood. There are many prescription medications that may possibly reduce the frequency or severity of migraine attacks. A list of these medications is available on many sites throughout the internet. Of the alternative medicines, it is said that Butterbur root extract is best. If you can’t find Butterbur at your local heath food store, you can find it here

There are alternative therapies that one can use such as acupuncture, Chiropractic, physiotherapy, massage and relaxation (which has been found to be as effective as some medications in the prevention of migraine headaches), stress reduction techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, meditation and aroma therapy. Some of the essential oils suggested for the treatment of migraine headaches are Lavendar, Peppermint, Jasmine, Eucalyptus, and Rosemary. I buy essential oils at my local health food store, but if your local health food store doesn’t carry the essential oils that you need, you can find them here.

I have had severe migraine headaches for 54 years. I have had them since the age of 6 years. My father had them, and my son also has them. I was properly diagnosed many, many years ago, and I take medication (Imitrex) when a severe migraine attack occurs. In my long experience with migraine headaches, I have found it helpful to try to eliminate as many triggers as possible. I have eliminated certain foods, MSG, preservatives, food colorings and additives, and many products that some people use on a daily basis. I do not wear fragrances, as I feel that may trigger some of my migraine attacks. I forgive myself if I have to take a day of rest when I have pain. I get regular checkups, and I follow my doctor’s orders. I take raw ginger root, which is an anti-inflammatory, in milk or tea at the onset of a migraine headache. For me, it helps to lessen the severity of the migraine pain. If you are considering using ginger in any form, please consult your licensed, professional healthcare provider. What I truly feel helps me in my challenge of living with severe migraine headaches, is that I have a partner who is extremely loving, caring, and understanding. He is always there with loving concern, a neck massage, or a beautiful, loving hug. It is he, who makes the worst pain in the world immediately lessen. 

For more information regarding migraine headaches, there are several good sites on the internet. The one I like best is www.migraine.com. It is a very informative site. You can subscribe to them, and also connect with them on all of the social media sites. 

If you have migraine headaches, always remember to communicate your needs and feelings regarding your pain. Be kind to yourself, and don’t feel guilty if you can’t perform tip top every day. And the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone, and that there is hope. Never give up hope.