It’s happening again: you see floaters and flashers in one or both eyes. You see a rainbow effect around objects. The lights have suddenly become unbearably bright, and the noise level, normal to most people, is as loud as a bullhorn in your ears. This is the classic preamble to one of the worst headaches you’ll ever have – a migraine. Or, perhaps you’re one of the unlucky sufferers who has no warning signs – just a sudden, severe pain in your head. Pain so bad all you want to do is crawl into bed in a dark, silent room and wait for it to go away.
What, exactly, is a migraine? Sufferers feel like it’s a punishment from God or the Universe, and they wonder what they’ve done to merit such torture. A true migraine is vascular in origin – the pain and symptoms are caused by sudden dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Why the vessels do this is still a mystery; some researchers currently speculate the cause is neurological – nerves in the brain overexcite the blood vessels, causing dilation.
Triggers for a migraine are numerous:
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Stress and Anxiety
- Changes in hormone levels
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Odors or perfumes
- Bright lights
- Loud noises
- Smoking, or exposure to smoke
- Exercise or other physical stress
- Skipped meals
Certain foods, such as:
- Baked goods
- Any processed, fermented, pickled or marinated foods
- Peanut Butter
- Dairy foods
- Foods containing tyramine
- Foods containing nitrates, such as bacon, hot dogs, or salami
This list is by no means complete; it’s not an exaggeration to say anything may cause a migraine in some sufferers.
True vascular migraines occur fifteen or fewer days in month, or not at all. They can, however, be chronic, occurring fifteen or more days in a month.
Migraines are also caused by muscle tension. Muscle tension is responsible for the vast majority of non-migraine headaches, and muscle tension headaches respond well to over-the-counter medications. A muscle tension migraine exhibits the same symptoms as a vascular migraine, but the treatment is vastly different.
In order to treat your migraines, you should consult a medical practitioner, who may order a CT scan or MRI, to rule out any serious medical cause, such as a brain tumor. If your headaches are vascular in nature, you will need medication to treat them; if your headaches are muscle tension related, you can treat them yourself, without the need for a prescription.
Treating a Vascular Migraine:
There is no cure for vascular migraines; prevention is the best bet, and learning how to treat a migraine once it occurs is next. Once your headaches have been identified as vascular migraines, learning how to treat them at home is key. Tracking your headaches can help you identify triggers, and you can develop a plan for managing or avoiding them. Your physician or medical practitioner may prescribe allopathic medications to prevent your headaches; these medications need to be taken every day to be effective.
Some of the classes being used in the prevention of migraines are:
- Antidepressants (amitriptylene, veniafaxine)
- Beta blockers (propanolol, metroprolol)
- Calcium channel blockers (verapamil)
- Seizure medications (valproic acid, gabapentin, and topiramate)
Botox injections have also been prescribed as a treatment method of chronic migraine.
Physical treatments for a migraine include drinking a caffeinated drink, ice packs on your head and neck, and lying down in a dark, silent room will mitigate your symptoms, if not actually alleviating the headache altogether.
Muscle Tension Migraines:
A muscle tension migraine is exactly what it sounds like – a migraine headache brought on by excessive tension in the muscles of the head, face, neck, and shoulders. Muscle tension migraines exhibit the same properties as a vascular migraine, but are treatable with physical therapy and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Muscle tension migraines can begin with the aura warning signs, or they can strike without warning.
Treating Muscle Tension Migraines:
Treating a muscle tension migraine is far easier than a vascular migraine; most of the therapies are easily performed by the sufferers themselves, or by a friend or loved one. The first therapy is an NSAID medication, either over-the-counter or prescription, cold packs on the neck and shoulders, a moist heating pad on the back, and a dark, silent room. Once the pain has abated enough to allow it, massage of the muscle in question , and/or application of a topical muscle relaxant, such as Aspercreme, comes into play.
Muscle tension migraines are more easily prevented than vascular migraines – paying attention to the muscle groups in question, regular stretching, and regular breaks from activities stressing the muscles prevents the headache in the vast majority of cases.
Natural Treatments For Migraines:
Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” for treating a migraine. However, it’s not necessary to rely on the allopathic medications for relief. Feverfew has been used as a treatment for headaches and arthritis for centuries. Feverfew belongs to the chrysanthemum family, along with chamomile. Both herbs are used as antispasmodics, but chamomile’s talents lie with the digestive tract, and feverfew with headaches, especially stubborn ones.
Feverfew contains parthenolides – compounds appearing to help control contraction and expansion of blood vessels. Migraines cause the production of seretonin, a neurotransmitter associated with pain tolerance, and your brain tells your blood vessels to constrict. Feverfew counteracts this order, improving the tone of the blood vessels. Feverfew also appears to neutralize prostaglandins, compounds linked to pain and inflammation. This property of feverfew makes it a holistic treatment for arthritis as well as migraines, and may be one reason it works well on muscle tension migraine sufferers.
If you suffer from vascular migraines, don’t toss your prescriptions; they may be necessary to help you when a migraine strikes. However, feverfew is a good choice to add as a preventative treatment – it seems to work best this way, but it has been shown to help once a migraine hits. You may also want to consider adding magnesium to your arsenal – it aids in toning the blood vessels, as well as feverfew, and it also helps with stress, and with muscle pains, making it a good choice for muscle tension migraine sufferers too.