Migraine headaches affect 30% of women and 20% of men. They are different than common tension headaches. A migraine is severe pain on one or both sides of the head, and the pain is throbbing rather than constant. You may have other symptoms before, during, or after the migraine, including visual disturbances, nausea, and vomiting. Generally, over-the-counter pain relievers will not help; however, several natural therapies can be helpful for relieving migraine.
Before – A day or two before a migraine you may feel:
- Depressed and cranky OR very happy, full of energy, and wide awake.
- Nervous or restless.
- Very sleepy.
- Be hungry, thirsty, or have food cravings OR you may not feel like eating.
Aura – One in five people have a warning sign prior to the migraine. This is called an aura and can start thirty minutes before the migraine begins. During an aura, you may:
- See spots, wavy lines, or flashing lights.
- Have numbness or tingling in your hands, feet, arms, or face.
When the migraine begins – Symptoms may include:
- Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head.
- Pain behind one of the eyes.
- Pain that ranges between five and ten on the standard pain scale and may get to an incapacitating level.
- Worsening pain with routine physical activity.
- Nausea, vomiting, or both.
- Worsening pain when in lighted areas, around noise, and in the presence of certain smells.
Less common symptoms – If you experience one or more of these less common symptoms and you never had them before, call your health care provider right away. You may have a more serious issue.
- Trouble speaking.
- Tingling in arms, face, and shoulders.
- Short-term weakness on one side of the body.
- Cognitive difficulties.
Symptoms after the migraine – After an episode of migraine, you may have muscle aches or feel very tired. This may continue for a day or two.
Types –You may experience more than one type of migraine. Each comes with its own set of symptoms.
- Menstrual migraines – These can occur before, during, or after a monthly cycle. Symptoms are the same for classic or common migraine.
- Common migraine – Symptoms include throbbing on one or both sides of the head and sensitivity to light and noise. It can have nausea and vomiting. A common migraine doesn’t begin with an aura and can last 4 to 72 hours.
- Classic migraine – This is a migraine with aura and some or all of the common symptoms.
- Complicated migraine – These migraines are accompanied with the less common symptoms above. Sufferers may have problems understanding speech or may not be able to move an arm or leg. Additional symptoms may or may not go away after the migraine ends.
- Abdominal migraine – This type of migraine usually occurs in children. Symptoms include vomiting or dizziness, with or without throbbing headache. Symptoms may happen once a month.
Food allergies, food sensitivities, hypoglycemia, and dehydration may be triggers that bring on migraine pain. Reducing triggers may reduce the number, and possibly the intensity, of migraine episodes.
Allergies – Food allergies can make the body respond like it does when viruses and bacteria invade. They can cause headaches and migraines. Common food allergies are wheat, dairy, citrus fruit, soy, corn, peanuts, yeast, chocolate, eggs, and the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant). However, this list can include anything that can be put in the mouth. Ways to check for food allergies are blood tests, scratch tests, or an elimination diet.
An elimination diet is done by removing potentially allergic food from the diet for at least two weeks. Start adding possible allergens back to the diet one at a time to check for any reactions. This is an accurate and inexpensive process, but can be difficult and uncomfortable to go through. Most would rather have the blood test or scratch test run instead. These tests can check for almost 100 allergens and are covered by most health insurance plans.
Food Sensitivities – Many have sensitivities to chocolate, nuts, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and foods that contain tyramine, like cheese and wine. Foods containing nitrate, like cured meats and members of the nightshade family may also cause problems. Check for food sensitivity by following an elimination diet described above.
Hypoglycemia – Some people have a condition where their blood sugar plunges two to three hours after they eat – hypoglycemia. This may cause headaches until they get their sugar balanced by controlling diet. Without proper diet, people with hypoglycemia may also suffer from fatigue and depression. See your health care professional to determine if this is what is causing your headaches.
Dehydration – If you are not getting enough water, this may be a trigger. Common rule of thumb is to drink two quarts of water daily. A better guideline is to take your weight and divide it by two to determine how many ounces of water you require daily. A person weighing 150 pounds should drink 75 ounces (about 9 1/3 cups) of water each day.
Natural Treatments – there are natural remedies that have been useful in preventing migraine.
Feverfew – an herbal supplement used for centuries for treating pain, including migraine. It became popular in England in the 1980s as an alternative treatment for migraine. Studies have shown migraine episodes decreased by up to two per month. However, if you’re on blood thinners, you’ll want to check with your doctor first. Feverfew may interact with blood thinning medications.
5-Hydroxytryptophan [5-HTP] – A compound made in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. It is used to make serotonin and melatonin. It can be made from a plant called Griffonia simplicifolia. Studies were done with some participants given 5-HTP at 600 mg/day and some given methysergide (a migraine preventative). After 6 months, 5-HTP was found as effective as the drug for migraine pain.
5-HTP can have some serious side effects if taken in conjunction with anti-depressants, both SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). If you’re taking Demerol or Ultram, or using a cough preparation that contains dextromethorphan, there can be side effects. It’s best to consult with your doctor before adding this over-the-counter therapy to your migraine preventative regimen.
Magnesium – mineral found in leafy greens. Studies evaluated magnesium for migraine and it has promise. After 9 weeks, frequency was reduced. High doses of magnesium may cause diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, weak muscles, difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and confusion, so use with caution. If you’re on blood pressure-lowering medication, be sure to monitor your blood pressure closely.
If you decide to take a mineral supplement instead of increasing your leafy greens, be aware there are two types of magnesium supplements available. Magnesium oxide is the more common one found on store shelves. However, this type of magnesium is poorly absorbed by the body. This type has about a 4% bioavailabilty when used. I prefer to take a product called Slow-Mag® which uses magnesium chloride (more easily absorbed by the body) and calcium to achieve higher bioavailability of the product.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – regular doses of this vitamin (400mg) has also shown promise in reducing migraine episodes.
Butterbur – Some have had less episodes and shorter duration after taking 50-75 mg twice daily. It may damage the liver, so speak with a health care provider before using. Also those pregnant or lactating should not use it.
Using a combination of feverfew, magnesium, riboflavin, and ginger every 12 hours has been a great preventative for me. I have only had one episode in the last 30 days, and it was shorter and less intense.
As always, this information is provided as a courtesy and not in an attempt to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Before beginning any natural or alternative therapy, talk with your doctor to make sure you don’t have predisposing conditions which could possibly be exacerbated by, or medication usage that would put your health at risk with, alternative therapy use.
©2011 Off the Grid News