Did you know that this week is migraine awareness week? I wanted to spread the word about this difficult condition…
Migraines…This is a subject close to my heart.
Hello, my name is Felicity, and I am a recovering migraine sufferer.
Throughout my late teens I suffered with headaches and migraines. To cut a long story short, thank goodness I was a chiropractic student, and my chiropractor made the connection with my migraines and the fact I had been in a serious car accident about 6 months prior to their onset. She had the knowledge to send me for an x-ray, which showed postural changes in my neck causing nerve and muscle tension, resulting in headaches and migraines!
It took a while, but I now only suffer headaches on the rare occasion (possibly wine related!), and have never had a migraine since becoming a chiropractor.
Are you a migraine sufferer? If you have ever had a migraine you will know they are extremely unpleasant and often debilitating. For many people they are a rare occurrence, but for some they can be frequent.
So named because it is often the most likely migraine diagnosis. Characteristically it is felt on one side of the head only (can be either side but rarely both at the same time), it doesn’t tend to come with an “aura’ , and can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Pain levels are usually quite significant, but often common migraines respond well to pain relief medication or specific migraine medication. Usually sufferers can carry on with daily activities (with some discomfort) if needed after some medication.
This migraine is much more severe. Usually it will begin with an “aura”. This is an unusual phenomenon whereby the sufferer gets some sort of cue that a migraine is about to hit. For most people this comes in the form of a visual disturbance, such as tunnel vision or black dots. For others it can be an audio disturbance (hearing a strange buzzing noise for example) or even physical (tingling of the skin or involuntary muscle spasms). When the migraine hits it often completely debilitates the sufferer.
About 1 in 7 people are affected by migraines, and often they are debilitating and massively disruptive – The Migraine Trust estimates that 25 million work or school days per year are lost as a result of migraine!
There are many different types of migraine, and we still have so much to learn about them. There are, however, things about migraines that we do know. Peter Goadsby, trustee of The Migraine Trust and professor of Neurology at King’s College London describes them as such: “Migraine is an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by changes like sleep, hunger and exercise.”
Women suffer far more frequently than men, and they are thought to start in early life but are rarely diagnosed until adulthood. Learning to understand an individual’s triggers can really help in the management of migraines.
A Change in Routine
Travel, working through the night and skipping meals could all be triggers. This may be because of additional stress or a dip in blood sugar, it isn’t fully understood yet. Try to keep a general routine in place and keep an eye on your diet; if you are prone to migraines then keeping a healthy snack at hand might be a good idea.
My first word of advice to someone having a headache or migraine attack? Go and drink 2 pints of water! This trigger is the easiest to avoid or fix!
There are links between migraine and too little sleep… but wouldn’t you know there are also links between migraine and too much sleep! Linking back to my first point, changes in sleep levels could lead to an increase in stress or dip in blood sugars so try to keep your sleep levels constant whenever possible.
The word stress is all over the place these days…for good reason! We all put a phenomenal amount of pressure on ourselves in modern times, whether it be due to work or home it is extremely difficult to escape the stresses of daily life.
The solution, I think, is to better prepare your body with dealing with the levels of stress we face. Taking time out to recharge, moving your body in the form of any exercise, or using yoga and meditation to regain focus and perspective are all habits that will help you to deal with stress.
I wrote an article about stress a few months back, see it HERE
Falling Oestrogen Levels
Hormone levels are blamed for migraines in women around their period, or post-menopausal episodes. Some women find migraine relief from taking the pill but be warned – some find it increases frequency of attacks and can come with a host of unwanted side effects.
Most migraine sufferers will have heard or thought at some point that chocolate might be causing their attacks. Whilst research suggests that migraine sufferers handle the amines in foods such as cheese, wine, citrus fruits and chocolate differently from non-sufferers, experts stress that no single food is the likely cause of migraines. It is thought that migraines occur when triggers occur together. It is also worth noting that NO DIRECT LINK has been found with migraine and chocolate! Instead it is thought that a person who is stressed or suffering with mood swings (another known trigger) is more likely to reach for wine/cheese/chocolate, making the sufferer conclude there is a link when in fact they may have been going to have a migraine anyway.
Research has linked migraine attacks to a fluctuation in caffeine levels. Coffee addicts like myself will feel it when they haven’t had their mid-morning coffee and I often hear that coffee over-indulgence can cause a headache. As a general rule if you are a migraine sufferer but still have caffeine, don’t’ change your caffeine habits quickly – a little change over time might stop a migraine attack.
Research has shown a strong link between people who spend large periods of time sat at a desk in a hunched posture and migraines. To a chiropractor like me this is hardly surprising – sitting in a poor posture puts massive amounts of stress on the joints and nerves of your upper neck, the same nerves that supply sensation to your head and face. Picture a headache sufferer – it’s likely that you are visualising someone leaned forward in a hunched position.
Being a chiropractor I obviously studied migraines and headaches extensively at university. It is however just as important to hear what “real-life” migraine sufferers go through, as quite often they will suggest clinical pearls of wisdom that the textbooks often miss. I asked a group of migraine sufferers to share their stories with me in the hope that they might offer some relief and hope to others:
There were some weird and wonderful ones… Silicone! As in the stuff they use as sealant around baths and showers! Aspartame, food colourings -yellow and red seem to be the worst- along with changes in the weather (barometric pressure shifts). The most common trigger by far? Stress! Followed by tiredness and different foods (the food list was very variable so I won’t list it here!)
These also varied, but mostly consisted of weird visual symptoms, including wobbly lines and dots and even tunnel vision! Some sufferers told me about tingling in the hands or face, and even uncontrollable arm movements!
I wanted to list these so they are easy to read:
Sleep – this was mentioned again and again. Maybe a migraine is some people’s body’s way of saying they need more of it!
Drugs – the most effective drug according to the sufferers I spoke to was atenolol. Consult with your GP for more information on which drugs to try.
Alternative therapies – many people found relief from acupuncture, chiropractic (YEY!) and yoga.
Keeping a strict food diary, and eliminating triggers as necessary – this sounds like an arduous task but is definitely worth it.
Ice on the back of the neck – this can be worth trying if done early enough.
Daith Piercing – This is an acupuncture point on the ear that severe migraine sufferers get pierced to help migraines. For some it is transformational, for others it has only a limited therapeutic affect. Might be worth trying if you’re not averse to needles! There’s a lovely blog with some posts about one sufferers journey HERE.
There have been some studies into certain nutritional supplements that may prove beneficial to sufferers. I have listed them below. Every item in this list has been found to positively impact severity and frequency of migraine attacks. On further analysis of the research studies however, it is clear that the study group sizes are small so therefore no definitive conclusions can be made. More research is needed into this area. In my opinion it is definitely worth a try as side effects are low and the benefits could be huge!
Possible nutritional supplements for migraine:
- Feverfew (herb)
- CoEnzyme Q10
- Riboflavin (vit B2)
Check out our migraine busting recipe HERE
I found some great online resources to support and inform migraine sufferers. Please feel free to comment with any resources that you found helpful!
Having spoken to sufferers my overall feeling is that a migraine is almost your body’s way of “shutting down” when life gets a bit much. Keeping this in mind, I will now be recommending patients work on reducing their stress levels any way possible, in addition to chiropractic care. It is also apparent to me that there is never just one factor in the development of migraines. Every single one of the sufferers that I spoke to mention that it is when 2-3 factors coincide that a migraine will strike. Therefore it would seem sensible to arrange a multi-faceted approach to addressing migraines. We are always happy to work with other health professionals to optimise your care.
We see many patients with headaches and migraines; it is one of our most common complaints. With severe migraines with aura we often see an improvement but rarely a complete elimination of symptoms, but perhaps if we insisted that our patients also practiced daily meditation and yoga, kept a food diary or went to bed earlier, then we might see a big difference!
I’d love to hear your migraine stories, please find us on facebook HERE to share your migraine journey with me.
If you would like to get in touch with us to make an appointment, or for more information, please call 01330 824040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.