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David Macgillivray, DOM AP LMT View Entire Blog

Managing Migraine Headaches

10/3/2012
I recently wrote about chronic tension headaches, the most prevalent type of persistent headaches. Now I'd like to cover the most infamous: migraines. They affect about 30 million Americans and are more than twice as common in females.

Causes of Migraine Headaches

Nobody knows exactly what causes migraines. Where management is concerned, what matters is knowing your triggers. The most common include too little sleep, stress, dehydration, skipping meals, prolonged exposure to bright lights or loud noises, strong odors, allergies, the menstrual cycle, drastic changes in atmospheric conditions, high blood pressure, low blood glucose levels, aspartame, MSG, nitrates, chocolate, nuts, food containing tyramine, alcohol, caffeine (intake or withdrawal), nutritional deficiencies, and smoking.

Distinguishing Migraines from Other Headaches

Migraines are different for individual sufferers. The frequency, duration, severity, and symptoms vary. After you've gone through it a few times, you'll be attuned to early symptoms and familiar with the headache's course. That's not to say migraines are the same each time, but they tend to be pretty consistent on an individual basis.

If you have migraines with auras, you get preliminary symptoms. They generally begin about 15 minutes before the headache, but can appear anywhere from 24 hours to a few minutes beforehand. They serve as warning signs and permit early intervention. You may see flashing lights or bright lines or spots, develop a blind spot or blurry vision, lose peripheral vision, become mentally foggy, feel tingling or numbness in your face, have eye pain, or experience sensory disturbances.

Not everyone has aura symptoms. The headaches themselves usually produce a throbbing or pounding sensation. They tend to begin as a dull ache and gradually worsen, be more painful on one side of the head, and last from 6 to 48 hours. Chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, numbness or tingling, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to light and sound, perspiration, and eye or neck pain are other telltale signs.

Preventing and Treating Migraine Headaches

There isn't a cure for migraines, so prevention is key. Avoiding personal triggers is essential to management. The best way to figure yours out is to keep a headache diary. When you sense a migraine coming on, write down the date, time of day, what you were doing, everything you've eaten and drank in the past 24 hours, and where you are in your menstrual cycle. Over time, a pattern or common denominator should emerge. Show your headache journal to your doctor for help.

If you choose to use medications, many are available. They can cause significant side effects, though, and rebound headaches, brought on by use and cessation of pain medications, are a concern. Migraine medications have a number of contraindications, too, such as people with ulcers or heart problems and pregnant and nursing women.

Feverfew and butterbur extract are effective herbal preventives, though they're not known for stopping migraines once they've begun. Some people find aromatherapy useful for treating the pain. Try peppermint and lavender first; if neither works, try eucalyptus, rosemary, sandalwood, or basil. There's also an acupressure point to use: firmly squeeze and press in on the skin between the thumb and forefinger. Biofeedback and a regular sleep routine providing 6 to 8 hours of sleep are beneficial, too.

Massage therapy and acupuncture are great tools for managing migraines, reducing their frequency, duration, and severity. They even reduce reliance on pain medications. Acupuncture and massage help eliminate triggers contributing to migraines headaches. They relieve stress and anxiety, loosen muscles, enhance circulation, promote better sleep, reduce inflammation, balance energy, and otherwise boost your health and resilience.

More info at: healthy-information/managing-migraine-headaches.html