Thursday, June 7, 2012

Migraine Prevention and Cure - stress, work, and relaxing properly

If you've ever had a persistent headache, lasting for more than a few hours - even days, a headache which throbs painfully and makes you want to vomit, then chances are you have suffered a migraine.
No, I am not attempting a Jedi mind trick!
This article covers some useful background info about migraines - migraine headaches in particular, as that is usually the most noticable symptom. We will also look at a few common causes that I have experienced with some regularity, and treatments of migraine headaches that I have found to reliably work.

Right off the bat, the unfortunate news is that if you suffer from migraine headaches you can't always eliminate them completely. The good news is that you can reduce their frequency and their impact on your life with a bit of practise.

What are migraines?
Migraines are a neurological disorder, which sounds rather scary. They are usually known for their intense and persistent headache pain which leads to nausea and sometimes vomiting. Personally, I'm not certain whether the nausea is a symptom of the migraine or if it is a secondary symptom of the throbbing pain from the headache.

One factor which is used to clearly distinguish migraines from regular headaches is the chronic nature of migraines. If you regularly suffer the symptoms over a longer period of time (months and years) then it is pretty certain that you are a migraine sufferer and not just a hypochondriac.

The complete list of common symptoms of migraine sufferers: 
- 5 or more suffered in the past (not just a once off)
- headache lasts from 4 hours up to 3 days
- usually affects half of the head (and shifts sides - always on the same side may be an indicator of a brain tumor!)
- pulsating pain
- nausea
- light and/or sound sensitivity
- a sort of narrowing of your field of view

I usually experience all of the above symptoms during the final (most intense) week or two of each school term.

Common causes
In reality, the causes are not fully known or understood. There seems to be a genetic component, as migraines occur more frequently in the same families, but this is not always the cause as even identical twins do not always both suffer from migraines. This leads most authorities to believe that there are both genetic and environmental causes/triggers to migraines.

Females are more susceptible according to the statistics, though I suspect the gap between men and women is less as men are usually more "afraid" to go and see the doctor. Whatever the cause, it's the triggers and risk factors which you should be worried about, because you can do something about them.

Migraine Triggers
- Mental stress or fatigue
- Lack of regular sleep
- Poor diet, e.g. too much sugar or alcohol
- Irregular eating, e.g. fasting
- Poor exercise habits
- Significant hormonal changes

It is important to note that, while you may be able to reduce the frequency of your migraines by reducing these triggers, there is no guarantee that you will eliminate them all together.  That's where the next section comes in but, until medical science provides a reliable cure, you should try to make your life less busy and more focused on a short list of things which are really important to you.  Live relaxed and healthy, then watch your migraines depart.

WARNING: This image may trigger a migraine!
How to stop a migraine in its tracks!
The following is a list of things which have really helped me to cut a migraine off once it has started:
- Ensure you are hydrated with a glass of water
- Get away from work and into a comfortable (home) environment
- Stay off your computing devices
- Turn off the lights and put on some favourite rhythmical music which you are very familiar with
- Lie down, close your eyes, and place a hot wheat pack on your face
- Go to sleep if you can, otherwise lose yourself in the music
- Place a small heater on your bare feet while you fall asleep
- If you must use a painkiller, stick with the recommended dose of paracetamol (NSAIDs are bad!)

Basically, the best way to fix your migraine is to deal with the triggers, get comfortable, and then ride it out.  If you can get comfortable enough to fall asleep for a solid chunk of time, the headache usually passes.

After a migraine it's also a great idea to have a few very low intensity days to help recover and to learn that you didn't really need to put yourself under as much stress, live with more fatigue or less sleep, etc.  Use your migraines to help you develop more sustainable routines and habits in your life as that is always a good trend to aim for.

Further links for your research/interest:
Migraines on Wikipedia
Berkeley University article
Migraine Support NZ