What is a Migraine? What can I do about them?

A “migraine” is an intense throbbing headache that may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or noise. Adult women are three times more likely than men to experience migraines. The frequency of migraine headaches usually peaks between age 30 and 40, and attacks decrease thereafter. The onset of a new migraine headache after age 50 is rare.

Migraine headaches are caused by a combination of nerve irritation and enlargement of the blood vessels in your brain. Migraines tend to run in families and sufferers have inherited a sensitive nervous system from their parents. Patients who are overweight or have other vascular risk factors are more likely to suffer from migraines.

Migraines are set off by “triggers” and the headache occurs when the number of triggers reaches a critical threshold. This can be likened to a glass of water that overflows at a certain point. Known triggers include: neck tightness, stress, smoking, strong odors (i.e. perfumes), bright or flickering lights, fluorescent lighting, too little or much sleep, head trauma, weather changes, motion sickness, cold (ice cream headaches), lack of activity or exercise, overexertion, fatigue, eyestrain, dehydration, hunger, fasting, and hormonal changes, including menstruation and ovulation. Certain medications, including hormones or oral contraceptives are known triggers. A detailed list of foods that trigger migraines is provided below.

About 20-33% of people who get migraines have warning symptoms, called an “aura”, before their actual headache attack. Aura symptoms develop slowly over five to 20 minutes and can last up to an hour. The most common aura is a band of absent vision with an irregular shimmering border. Some patients report numbness or tingling in their arms or face. Be sure to tell your doctor if you experience any confusion or decreased consciousness with your headache. Other signs to watch for include: abrupt headaches that develop and peak very quickly, headaches that develop following a head injury, light-headedness, dizziness, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, difficulty walking, fever, rash, or any “new” headache that is significantly different from your prior headaches.

Many patients benefit from the types of treatment provided in this office. Research has shown a “significant reduction” in migraine frequency and intensity through chiropractic care. Your home management will focus on avoiding “triggers” and stress. You should begin keeping a headache diary to help you track and eliminate triggers. Patients who experience migraines are more susceptible to other types of cardiovascular disease, like heart attack and stroke. Be sure to choose a “heart healthy” diet (i.e. limit sodium and fats) and keep your weight controlled. Eat at regular intervals and stay well-hydrated as hunger and dehydration are known triggers.

Your doctor may talk to you about supplements like Feverfew (125mg/ day), Riboflavin (400mg/ day), Magnesium (400-600mg/ day) and Co-enzyme Q10 (100mg 3x per day) that have been helpful in preventing headaches for some migraine sufferers. The American Headache Society recommends that patients avoid overuse of medication to control their headaches, (no more than 2 doses per day, 2 days/week) as this can lead to more frequent “rebound” headaches. Do not begin or discontinue any new vitamins or medications without talking to your doctor first, especially if you are nursing or pregnant.

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