A migraine is more than just a bad headache. This debilitating head pain is found to be the sixth highest cause of years lost due to disability worldwide, based on the 2013 Global Burden of Disease Study. In the US, up to $36 billion in annual healthcare and lost productivity costs are attributed to migraines, according to the Migraine Research Foundation (MRF).
An estimated one billion people suffer from migraines around the world. Despite its prevalence, only about 4 percent of sufferers seek medical consultation.
If you’re part of the vast majority who prefer to treat migraines at home, here’s how you can do it more effectively and naturally. But, before the tips, let’s start with the facts.
What is a migraine?
A migraine is a neurological condition that affects persons all ages, and it is often passed on from parents to their offsprings. As one of the recurring headache types, it is distinct from the other types because of the accompanying sensory disturbances, as well as nausea or vomiting.
What is migraine with aura?
About 30 percent of migraine sufferers experience classic migraine (with aura), according to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF). An “aura” is a series of sensory disturbances or hallucinations occurring before the onset of pain.
These warning signs start gradually, last from 5-20 minutes, and they may be:
- Vision-related – Seeing spots, black dots, flashes, zig zags or stars, having tunnel vision or even losing sight intermittently.
- Sensory-related – A numbing or tingling feeling in the face, body, hands and fingers or even experiencing muscle weakness. Experiencing ringing in your ears and changes in taste, touch and smell can also occur.
- Speech-related – Slurring or mumbling, and having other speech difficulties.
Scientists are still trying to understand how it works, because an “aura” doesn’t happen with each migraine attack and it is not yet known why.
What is the difference between a migraine with and without aura?
There’s no difference between the two in terms of symptoms, triggers and how they are treated. The only difference is the aura or warning sign you get prior to head pain.
What causes migraines?
A family history of having migraines is one of the main risk factors for this type of headache. Triggers vary from one person to another, but may include any or a combination of the following:
- Hormonal changes – Menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, taking contraceptive pills and hormone replacement therapy.
- Emotional factors – Stress, anxiety, tension, shock and depression
- Physical triggers – Fatigue, overexertion, low-quality sleep, poor posture, tensions in the neck or shoulders, jet lag and low blood sugar.
- Dietary considerations – Skipped meals, dehydration, alcohol and caffeine intake, medication overuse and specific foods that contain nitrates and monosodium glutamate.
- Environmental changes – Bright or flashing lights (especially from digital screens), smoke, loud noises and strong smells.
What are the symptoms of a migraine?
A migraine manifests as an intense, throbbing pain felt on one side of the head. The pain is usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting and an increased sensitivity to light, sound and smell.
What happens to your body during a migraine?
This pre-headache phase can begin up to 24 hours before the onset of the headache. During this time, people may experience a range of symptoms, including food cravings, mood changes, uncontrollable yawning, increased urination or fluid retention.
Experiencing visual disturbances or hallucinations in the form of flashing lights, blind spots and distorted shapes and patterns are common. This stage is the warning sign that a “storm”, in this case a headache, is coming.
As the name implies, this is the stage where a sufferer goes through mild, then moderate, then debilitating head pain that lasts for a few minutes to an hour or so. Other symptoms may include nausea and vomiting, anxiety and sensitivity to light and sound.
Also referred to as a migraine hangover, this phase begins as the pain stops. The symptoms can include dizziness, neck stiffness and exhaustion. This phase can last for a few hours to several days.
What are the risk factors for migraine?
- Sex – Women have migraines three times more often than men, leading scientists assume that fluctuations in female sex hormones might have a profound impact on this neurological condition.
According to a study, more than 55 percent of women have migraines triggered by their menstrual period.
- Age – Most people start having migraine headaches between ages 10 and 40. For girls, it usually develops in the same year that their menstrual period begins. Migraine increases in women from puberty until the age of 40 or so, but they do get better or go away completely after age 50.
- Family history – About 90 percent of migraine patients have a family member suffering from it as well, according to MRF. Relatively, a person who has at least one parent suffering from migraine will have a 50 percent chance of getting it, while the risk increases to 75 percent if both parents experience migraines, the MRF further states. According to this study, men may be slightly more genetically susceptible than women when it comes to migraines.
What are the natural remedies for migraine relief at home?
Taking medications for recurring migraines can be addictive and may cause adverse effects after prolonged consumption.
Hence, here are some methods you can try to relieve migraines naturally.
1. Apply warm or cold compress
Applying cold therapy is still the top self-care treatment for migraine sufferers. It works by constricting the blood vessels, numbing the pain and reducing inflammation. A 2013 study found that the application of a neck ice pack targeting the carotid arteries dramatically reduced migraine pain among its test subjects.
2. Drink lots of water
According to a study, dehydration could be one of the trigger factors for migraines. That’s why when you think you’ll have an attack, rehydrate. It may not completely address the pain, but you’re sure to feel better after drinking water.
3. Create a calm and dark environment
Light and sound sensitivity dramatically multiplies in some people who have headaches. Bright lights from your computer and mobile phone screens make your symptoms worse. It’s better for you to stay in a dark room or wear an eye mask or migraine head cap. Wear sunglasses outdoors, add anti-glare screens to your computer and install blackout curtains to help you heal faster from migraines.
4. Get some shut-eye
Adults should get at least seven hours of sleep, and not getting enough negatively impacts your mental performance and causes headaches and migraines as well.
Endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers and the hormones that trigger a positive feeling in our body, are released when we exercise. They likewise help reduce stress, promote deep slumber and improve circulation, the deficiencies of which are known to trigger migraines or headaches.
A 2018 research on pediatric headaches revealed that the lack of exercise might have an impact on the incidence of adolescent headaches. Predictably, regular exercises, such as riding a bike and brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes daily could help.
6. Try acupuncture
This traditional Chinese medicine involves using small needles and placing them in specific parts of your body to promote self-healing. A research cited acupuncture’s efficacy in preventing and reducing the frequency of migraines and tension headaches, perhaps even more effective than oral painkillers.
7. Massage your pressure points
Reflexology, another traditional Chinese medicine, stresses that massaging certain pressure points may help relieve tension in the different parts of your body.
For headaches, try pinching the area between your thumb and index finger, or the
area between the eyebrows and the two spots at the base of the eyebrows on either side of the bridge of the nose. A neck massage may also help release tension.
8. Relaxation techniques
Stress and anxiety are headache and migraine triggers. By practicing relaxation techniques, a migraine sufferer can better control the physiological responses to pain, reducing anxiety and stress.
According to a 2016 research, progressive muscle relaxation training such as deep-belly breathing and guided meditations may reduce migraine frequency by up to 41 percent. Practicing yoga and stretches in the middle of a headache may also help manage pain.
9. Sip some ginger tea
Ginger and its close relative, turmeric, provide various health benefits, ranking among the top 10 herbal supplements in the US in 2017. A 2018 study affirmed ginger’s efficacy as a complementary treatment for migraines. They do come in various forms: powder, gel and capsules.
Mix ginger powder with water to make your own relaxing herbal tea to help with your headaches and tummy problems.
10. Cut back on caffeine
Caffeine-laden beverages such as coffee, tea and carbonated drinks can help ease headache symptoms, because it can relax the blood vessels around your brain, increasing circulation and relieving tension.
However, consuming too much caffeine or abruptly eliminating it from your diet can also cause headaches.
Hypersensitivity to specific smells can also trigger headaches in some patients. Aromatherapy, however, may be effective in relieving the pain. This study noted that inhaling lavender oil reduced headache severity in patients. Other essential oils like peppermint, chamomile, rosemary and eucalyptus are also said to help reduce pain.
12. Tweak your diet
Specific minerals such as magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and coenzyme Q10 are said to help reduce the incidence of migraine attacks. Avocados, nuts and legumes are known to be rich in magnesium, while vitamin B2-rich foods include milk, beef, fish, avocado and egg. Sources for CoQ10 include pork, fish, spinach, broccoli and sesame seeds.
You should watch what you eat, too, as some food additives are believed to be migraine-inducing. Deli and processed meat which contain nitrates and Asian dishes that have monosodium glutamate should be avoided.
13. Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol acts as a diuretic, which makes you pee more often than you should. This further leads to mild dehydration symptoms, including headaches.
Avoiding alcohol or limiting its intake can contribute to a lesser risk of migraine recurrence.
14. Avoid contact with chemicals or other strong smells
Because light, noise and smell sensitivities increase among migraine and headache sufferers during an attack, it helps one to avoid these triggers.
This 2013 study discovered that exposure to strong-smelling chemicals such as perfumes, paints, gasoline and bleach can trigger migraines and tension-type headaches in patients. Avoiding these compounds can help arrest the onset of a migraine.
If your head pain persists after trying out these methods, it is best to seek the help of a medical professional, as your migraine may be a symptom of a more serious health condition.
These natural home remedies are aimed at helping you get rid of migraines without taking medications. Besides saving on costs, these treatments also help maintain your well-being without you having to worry about adverse effects.
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