Dealing with monster migraines

Veronica remembers how her mother would spend some afternoons holed up in her bedroom with the blinds tightly pulled. “She would complain of severe, pounding, debilitating headache. We had to play quietly and turn the TV volume down,” Veronica says. In her teenage years, Veronica remembers thinking that her mother was just being a drama queen. “No headache could be that bad!” she thought. “She’s just attention-seeking or doing this to avoid house work.”

Veronica’s mother was probably suffering from migraines, the third most common disease in the world -- after dental caries and tension-type headaches. Migraine has a global prevalence of 14.7, which is around 1 in 7 people. Chronic migraines affect nearly 2 per cent of the world population. Affecting three times as many women as men, migraines often start in puberty but can even trouble younger children.

Often dismissed as just being dramatic, nearly half of migraine sufferers remain undiagnosed and untreated. However, migraines are more than just a mere headache. The symptoms of a migraine are a severe headache that is often by nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to lights and sounds. In his novel Firestarter, writer Steven King -- who also suffers from migraines -- aptly described migraines thus: “The headache would get worse until it was a smashing weight, sending red pain through his head and neck with every pulse beat. Bright lights would make his eyes water helplessly and send darts of agony into the flesh just behind his eyes. Small noises magnified, ordinary noises insupportable. The headache would worsen until it felt as if his head were being crushed inside an inquisitor’s love cap...He would be next to helpless.”

The causes of migraines, chronic or otherwise are not yet well understood, although imbalances in certain brain chemicals are thought to play a role. There is also a genetic factor involved because one is likely to get a migraine if they have a family history of migraines. Other causes include hormonal changes, emotional stress, certain foods, skipping meals, sensory overload, and changes in sleep pattern.

The treatment of migraines is as varied as the causes. Here are some ways you can prevent, treat, and manage migraines:

Have a cuppa

Although withdrawal from caffeine, or taking too much of it is often linked to causing migraines, taking a cup of coffee can relieve a migraine. The catch, however, is that coffee is most effective for those who don’t drink caffeinated drinks day-to-day. If you’re not a fan of coffee, you can get some caffeine from a cola drink or a beverage such as Red Bull. For coffee aficionados, limit your coffee intake to 200mg a day- which is roughly an 8-ounce cup of coffee.

Bust a move

Exercise can help manage many conditions, migraines included. During physical activity, your body releases certain chemicals which help block pain signals to your brain. Exercise also alleviates other triggers such as anxiety and depression. Maintaining a healthy weight through exercise also generally improves long term health and well-being, which can lead to less migraine incidences. Any exercise is good, but you can start out with walking, cycling, or jogging.

Don’t skip meals

Are you in the habit of skipping meals? That could be the reason why you are experiencing migraines. Fluctuations in blood sugar can cause a cascade of reactions which can trigger a migraine. These crashes often happen when you’ve had meals or drinks containing a lot of sugar, then go for a while without eating anything else. If you notice that your migraines happen when you have skipped a meal, plan to have small and more regular meals. You can also carry some low-sugar snacks such as an apple, carrot sticks, or a protein bar to nibble on before the migraine strikes. Instead of loading on carbs- which are quickly converted into sugar-include more protein in your diet.

Check your medications

Do you rush to take a painkiller whenever the migraine strikes? This is probably not the smartest or healthiest approach in handling migraine pain. Painkillers can be addictive, which can add to your problem instead of treating it. Using over-the-counter medication too much can also overwork your liver and lead to other health concerns. However using an aspirin every now and then-if that works for you-can be helpful.

Be zen

In today’s fast-paced world, some migraines are caused by the stress of work, family commitments, and exhausting commute to and from work. Adopting meditation can be a safe and natural way to treat and prevent these migraines. If the idea of sitting quietly in a room doesn’t appeal to you try yoga or just focus on an activity -such as singing, playing an instrument or cooking. In similar vein, a whole-body massage can help you relax. A study found that frequent migraine sufferers had fewer headaches after six-weekly massage sessions.

Pop a supplement

Many people who suffer from migraines have vitamin and mineral deficiencies. One of the common mineral deficiencies is magnesium. A study found that daily magnesium supplements reduced migraine frequency by nearly 42 per cent compared to 16 per cent in the people who were given a placebo. Omega 3, butterbur, coenzyme Q10, and riboflavin supplements and foods can also help in the prevention of migraines.

These foods include oily fish, flax seeds, nuts, milk, and leafy green vegetables. However, consult your doctor before taking supplements for migraines.

Take computer breaks

Poring over your laptop, desktop, iPad, and phone all day every day strains your eyes, making you more susceptible to migraines. Take regular breaks from your computer and phone and you might just have less frequent headaches and migraines. When at work, you can take a 30-minute break to have tea with your colleagues, go for lunch, or take a short walk around the block. While at it, keep away from the TV and movie theatres- flashing lights from the screen are a common migraine trigger for many people.

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