Health & Personal Care

Here’s how you can handle migraine attacks effectively

Here’s how you can handle migraine attacks effectively

A migraine is essentially a debilitating headache that affects many people in the country. In this condition, the intense throbbing, pulsing pain that is felt on one side of the head might be accompanied by discomfort too, when one is exposed to light and/or sound. Some people may suffer from additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, numbness, tingling, and sometimes, even experience difficulty with speaking. A migraine is a neurological condition that is mostly hereditary. It can also affect all age groups.

Types of migraines
If one has been getting a headache more often than not, it is time to consult a physician to ascertain if they are suffering from a migraine. The doctor will probably try to rule out other causes, check for symptoms, and assess the person’s clinical history. There are essentially two types of migraine headaches.

  • Common migraine (without aura)
  • Classic migraine (with aura)

The presence of several symptoms gradually leads to a migraine attack. The symptoms can sometimes come as early as a day or two before the migraine attack. This is called the prodrome stage. The symptoms may differ from person-to-person, but here are the most common ones.

  • Frequent yawns
  • Feeling listless, tired, and fatigued
  • The person generally shows some amount of irritability
  • Food cravings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Depression
  • Stiffness in the neck region

These symptoms can be experienced for migraines without aura. In cases of migraines with aura, the aura comes after the above (prodrome) stage. During an aura, the person typically experiences some or all of the below symptoms.

  • A temporary loss of vision is quite common in this stage
  • There is a tingling or prickly sensation in the arms, legs, and face
  • One may see light spots, flashes, or shapes
  • One may find that it is difficult to speak with clarity.

The next phase is generally the most acute. The attack phase is when the migraine is at its worst. The symptoms vary, but the pain can last anywhere between a few hours to days. The categorization of the headache into phases is for convenience, so that one can recognize the onset of a migraine. However, the phases may overlap or occur during one phase or the other. During the attack phase, one may experience the below symptoms.

  • A throbbing or pulsing headache is the most common symptom that people experience
  • Nausea and vomiting often accompany headaches in this acute phase
  • The pain is typically centered on one side of the head — left, right, front, or back. Sometimes, one may experience the pain around the temples too.
  • There is a dramatic increase in sensitivity to light or sound
  • One might experience dizziness along with feeling faint.

The final phase of the migraine is the postdrome. There is a sense of relief as most of the symptoms recede considerably. Despite a dull and/or persistent low-grade headache, the person feels relieved, euphoric, fatigued, and sometimes low-spirited.

The degree of pain and the extent to which such an episode lasts will differ in different people. As mentioned already, all or only some of the phases may be experienced. Some phases may not be experienced at all.

Why do migraines occur?
There may be several reasons for migraine pain. While some information is available, research about the functioning of the brain is ongoing. The research on migraines so far suggests that a drop in the levels of serotonin in the brain can trigger an attack. While this is the main reason, there may be other factors that trigger an attack:

  • Exposure to extreme temperatures, such as high heat, may be a factor
  • Hormonal changes can be a contributing factor too. For instance, PMS, menopause, and pregnancy can dramatically alter the estrogen and progesterone levels, leading to migraine attacks.
  • Bright lights or consistent loud sounds are known to be a trigger for some
  • Erratic sleep cycles or change in sleeping patterns
  • Certain kinds of foods or drinks such as alcohol or caffeine might be a trigger
  • Excessive traveling can cause a migraine because it means that you do not get the rest you need. Further, traveling across time zones may leave you listless or lethargic.
  • Alcohol consumption and smoking can be a cause too
  • One should keep track of the medicines they take. Some of these may have side effects that may be responsible for migraine attacks.
  • Stress is known to be a cause of migraines. Keep a tab on the stress levels to keep such attacks to a minimum.
  • Barometric pressure is also commonly quoted as a reason for headaches. When the temperature outside drops, it is different from the temperature in your sinus. This can trigger a headache. One may also face the same problem in an airplane.
  • Skipping meals may be one of the reasons for headaches. Irregular meals are known to cause headaches.
  • Just as skipping meals is a problem, not drinking enough water may cause headaches or a migraine attack. Dehydration is a genuine problem and may trigger headaches in some people. The pain resembles the pain you feel during a hangover.

Treatment options
While diagnosing migraine, your physician will attempt to rule out other complications, such as a tumor, stroke, infection, or bleeding in the brain. An MRI or CT scan will be used to arrive at the right diagnosis. The treatment for a migraine is aimed at stopping or controlling the symptoms. There are two ways in which doctors treat migraine attacks:

  • Preventive medications: Preventive medicines are taken to prevent migraines. This means that they have to be taken daily to prevent a headache. Based on one’s history and reaction to medications, the doctor may suggest some or one of the below options.
    • Anti-seizure medicines
    • Antidepressant medicines
    • Medicines to lower blood pressure
    • Botox injections
    • Calcitonin gene-related peptide monoclonal antibodies in the form of monthly injections
  • Pain-relief medicines: These medicines take care of the pain and discomfort one experiences at the peak of the attack. It is typically referred to as an acute or abortive treatment method.
    • Pain relievers like Advil, Motrin-IB (Ibuprofen or Aspirin) may be prescribed.
    • Triptans such as Imitrex, Tosymra, Maxalt are prescribed in the form of shots, pills, or nasal sprays. They block the pain pathways to the brain, and this helps to treat the headache.
    • Depending on the kind of migraine one has (aura or without aura), the right kind of medicines are prescribed. A combination of medicines such as Migranal®, Reyvow, and Ubrelvy may be prescribed too. Since these medicines have some side effects, one should always discuss their medical history completely before taking them.
    • Anti-nausea medications may be suggested as well.
    • Narcotic opioid medicines that have codeine as one of the ingredients are known to help too.

Natural remedies
Acupressure and acupuncture are known to help with the symptoms of a migraine. Several studies have been conducted to prove their effectiveness. They show that pressure applied to certain points can relieve several symptoms such as nausea and vomiting during a migraine attack. Licensed professionals will suggest a possible treatment plan for migraine.

Essential oils: Essential oils are used extensively as home remedies for several conditions. There are five oils that can provide relief during a migraine attack. Lavender, rosemary, chamomile, eucalyptus, and peppermint oils are loaded with properties that can manage tension headaches and relieve inflammation. Stress is an important factor in most headaches. These essential oils work in various ways to induce sleep and relaxation, which can take care of the pain.

Yoga: This ancient technique encourages a holistic approach to life. It combines several postures and breathing techniques. There are no side effects in this approach. However, one must learn them from certified teachers and gurus. Practicing yoga while spending a few minutes every day to slow your breathing can help you prepare for a migraine attack. Postures such as standing forward bend, child pose, cat pose, and downward dog pose are just some of the poses that will help.

Alternate therapies: There are many ways to manage a migraine attack. While aggressive treatments are great, it is best to seek alternative methods that promise relief without side effects. Aromatherapy, stress management, botox, meditation, reiki, and electromyographic (EMG) feedback are just some of the options that one can consider. While exploring the above, one may want to consider a change in their diet by including foods that will aid a healthier and robust immune system. Several herbal supplements are known to help relieve inflammation and other issues. Among the many options, butterbur and feverfew are commonly used for migraine pain.

Watch out for allergy triggers: The nervous, hormonal, and immune systems are closely linked, and therefore, play a key role in triggering headaches. While a sinus headache and migraine are different, they are closer than you can imagine. With migraines, your nervous system is sensitive, and your immune system comes into play with sinus headaches. It is best to protect and strengthen your immune system, to avoid the stress that comes with these headaches. Watch out for allergies that may be triggering an attack.

Massage: Massages have been used for a long time now to treat numerous ailments. Tension headaches can be taken care of by massaging the neck region. While using a tennis ball to massage the area will work, professional masseurs are trained to tackle such problems in other ways too.

Consume these foods to manage migraines
It is always good to have an eye out for triggers that may be causing your migraines to surface. If one is aware of allergy triggers, one should avoid such foods. However, there are some foods that you can eat to prevent migraines.

Fatty fish: Fatty fish are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and that makes them the best for those who get a migraine attack frequently. Some studies done on the compounds present in these fish show that their consumption reduces the occurrence of migraines.

Fruits, vegetables, and legumes:
Women who experience a migraine along with their period may gain from switching to a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These foods contain plant-based estrogen, which will supplement the shortfall at this time. These foods are high in fiber, which takes care of the excess estrogen in the body.

Foods rich in magnesium:
Several kinds of foods provide the right tools to fight a migraine. For instance, whole grains and leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are all high in magnesium. Low levels of magnesium are known to make the brain extra sensitive to triggers of a migraine. It is also seen that those who get migraines are often deficient in magnesium. So, look for foods that will help to supplement the magnesium levels in the body.

Ginger can be used in any form: powdered or fresh, to absorb the potent compounds present in this root. The compounds are like what you find in anti-inflammatory and non-steroidal medicines. Ginger can be used in everything you cook, so you can consume some every day. However, if you can feel a migraine coming on, you can grate some ginger and add it to a glass of water and sip it slowly to reduce the pain. Ginger also works to relieve nausea that comes with the migraine.

Small amounts of coffee are known to help with the pain experienced during a migraine. It is said that about 100mg of caffeine a day combined with low-dose pain medication is far more effective than any other medicine. However, consulting a doctor is recommended.

Sometimes, genetics play a huge role in migraines too. So, as much as it is important to treat your condition, it is even more important to understand the triggers and how it affects you. This way, you can prevent migraine attacks as much as possible or deal with the symptoms in a better way.

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