The pain of a migraine is sometimes unbearable.
It’s hard to explain what these feel like to someone who doesn’t get them.
That’s my goal for today. I want to take you through what you may experience when you get a migraine, how you can nip it in the bud or avoid it from progressing, and some natural remedies to help ease the pain.
Read on if you want to relieve your migraine aches!
What does it feel like?
The ‘ache’ of a headache feels like just a small fraction of what a migraine can inflict on your head, body, and mind.
Once you feel it coming on, you know what you’re in for.
Some of you may be wondering what makes a migraine different from a headache.
There are 4 distinct phases of a migraine, and you may or may not go through them all when you get a migraine. I’ve had a few migraines in my life, and I’m not sure how other’s feel about me writing this blog, because I know some people who get them several times a month. However, I can speak to how scared I’d be to get a migraine monthly and just having to wait it out without any form of relief.
I won’t go into detail about the phases, as the American Migraine Foundation does a really great job of breaking it down. I’m no expert, and would rather lead you straight to the source. I’ve taken this infographic from their website (look above!) and you’ll see there are 4 distinct phases: Prodrome, Aura, Attack/Headache, Postdrome. When you understand what happens in each phase, you are more likely to be able to manage this disease.
It can be tough to tell the difference between the phases sometimes, as fatigue and blurred vision, for example, can be found in both the prodrome and aura stages, but these can serve as a warning sign for you to take medication to help relieve the migraine before it gets worse.
You’ll notice some of these symptoms are really painful or mood-altering. For example, in the same day you could experience difficulty reading and speaking, temporary loss of sight, and giddiness. It’s sudden, abrupt, and sometimes unforeseen. Especially if you experience migraines differently each time and don’t know what to expect.
The whole experience could last a few hours to several days, leaving a person debilitated and unable to eat, work, sleep, or move.
What makes migraines so painful is that you can experience this for lengthy periods of time and have the symptoms change frequently. You may experience pain in your body, in your head, nausea, trouble seeing and sleeping. And if you can’t sleep or eat, it makes healing from a migraine much harder. It therefore affects your nervous system and cause your immunity to decline.
Being able to identify risk factors can help individuals anticipate how long the attack will last or how long the aftereffects will linger.
There are many causes or possible triggers for a migraine.
You might get migraines because of your genetics or even environmental factors (where you work or live). You could also be at risk of migraines if there are changes to the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve (a major pain pathway). Just like depression can be caused by a chemical imbalance, so can migraines; this could be a case of low serotonin, a hormone that helps to regulate pain in your nervous system.
Some possible migraine triggers are:
- Drinks: Specifically alcohol (especially the ones high in sugar!) and caffeine (energy drinks, coffee, etc.).
- Stress: Nip stress in the bud if you want to avoid a migraine. Go for a walk, meditate, or talk it out!
- Sensory stimuli: Bright or flashing lights, loud sounds, sharp smells (perfume, Sharpies, paint thinner, smoke).
- Sleep: If there is a sudden change in your sleep pattern, such as missing sleep or getting too much, this may trigger a migraine.
- Weather: A change in barometric pressure can prompt a migraine (or headache).
- Physical Factors: Intense physical exertion, such as a sport or sexual activity, can provoke migraines.
- Medications: Birth control and vasodilators, such as nitric oxide, can aggravate migranes.
- Food: Salty, processed foods may trigger migraines. If you do not eat enough or skip a meal, this may cause a migraine as well. Lastly, try to aovid food additives! Things such as aspratame and MSG, which are both found in many foods (diet or not), can be the secret cultprit, and cutting them out may help a lot!
- Hormonal changes in women: Throughout the month, those who experience hormonal changes will see fluctuations in estrogen (before/during menstrual periods), pregnancy, and menopause. This often causes headaches.
- Unfortunately, women are 3x more likely to experience migraines than men.
So is there any relief from a migraine? If you want to avoid over-the-counter medicine, do you have other options?
Here are some natural remedies you can try out if you’d like to hold off taking medicine:
- Holistic choices: There are many, such as massage, acupuncture, acupressure therapy (stimulates specific points of the body to release muscle tensions and alleviate pain). Some people even swear by essential oils, as the smell can calm and reduce the severity of migraine headaches (lavender is a popular choice!).
- Supplements: If you’re looking for herbal remedies, some say Butterbur and feverfew are helpful in reducing migraine pain and frequency. For daily supplementation, I recommend Magnesium, since most of us are deficient in this essential mineral. Deficiency can cause migraine aura or a mentrual-migraine headache. However, please speak to your doctor before adding Magnesium to your regimen, just in case it counteracts with other medications. Lastly, you may want to consider a B-complex vitamin to help reduce migraine frequency and severity.
- Hydration: Seems like an obvious one, but it’s pretty easy to forget to drink water. If you feel like you’re losing a lot of electrolytes, consider adding in an Electrolyte Concentrate.
- Movement: I’m saying go out for a run or a crossfit class, but if you can move, take advantage! Go for a walk if possible, or do some light yoga and stretching. Movement helps to improve bloow and reduce muscle tension!
- Rest: Lack of sleep can trigger migraines, so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep a night. This means avoiding lit-up screens a couple hours before bed.
There is a lot of research surrounding new techniques that can help relieve symptoms of migraines, such as Biofeedback therapy and simply using a compress (hot or cold) to help soothe the pain of a headache. In the end, the best solution is the one that works for you!
Keep in mind, these remedies may not work for everyone, every time. For example: they may work if taken/administered really early on, but realistically, many of us wait a little too long and then may need something a little stronger. Taking medically-prescribed over-the-counter meds are recommended to shorten the time of suffering.
There aren’t many ways you can avoid a migraine unless you’ve created a routine for yourself that helps keep you healthy. But just like the common cold, you may not be ready for it, and it may be unavoidable. Sometimes, we’re busy, stressed, and not eating well or staying hydrated. Nobody’s perfect, but as long as you know how it came up, you can try to avoid it the next time around.
Because migraines are fairly common, affecting around 1 in every 5 women and around 1 in every 15 men, they often go untreated and undiagnosed.
It’s important to keep track of your migraines, as well as keeping a record of how you treat them. At this point, it’s time to bring this information to your doctor to discuss a treatment plan. This includes having frequent headaches.
If you’ve experienced a migraine before or get them frequently, I’d love to hear about your experience. Let us know how you manage your migraine or headache symptoms, even if it means you take over-the-counter medication to help ease the pain. Is there anything from the list above you’d like to try to change things up? Please share below!