Ultimate Guide to Managing Migraines

October 10, 2021

Ultimate Guide to Managing Migraines

Migraines are more than just a persistent headache. Those who suffer from it can attest that it can bring its annoying friends: sensitivity to light, nausea - and even temporary vision loss.

The build up to a full blown migraine attack will often seem harmless until you find yourself under the covers trying to avoid light like a vampire.

It's unfortunate that it's the 6th most disabling disease in the world.

In this article, we'll talk about the common triggers of migraine, the different types, and the steps you can take during an attck so you or a loved one can better manage it.

What causes migraines?

The tricky thing about migraine is that its causes are different from person to person. But there are a common triggers you can watch out for:

  • Hormonal changes
    • Women who frequently experience migraines might notice its connection around their menstruation cycle. Migraines can attack before, during, and after their period. 
  • Caffeine and alcohol
    • Caffeine is said to help with migraines before an attack. However, it can also trigger a migraine for some. Caffeine disrupts the adenosine receptors in the brain which can trigger a headache, so be careful. Alcohol is another trigger substance since it is a diuretic and can make you dehydrated resulting in a migraine. A compound in alcohol, ethanol, can also trigger inflammation in the body which can cause a migraine.
  • Stress
    • Since stress triggers inflammation in the body, stressful situations at home or at work can cause migraine attacks. 
  • Strong smells
    • Migraine sufferers are more sensitive to strong smells such as a strong perfume, cigarette smoke, paint and paint thinner, cleaning products, and more.
  • Visual stimuli
    •  Pulsing lights, glares, bright lights, or even watching movies can be a trigger for some people.
  • Lack of sleep
    • Everyone needs proper sleep - migraine sufferers especially. Not sleeping enough increases the production of proteins in the body that cause chronic pain, making you more susceptible to a migraine attack.
  • Skipping meals
    • Skipping meals can cause your sugar levels to drop and spike, triggering a migraine attack.
  • Changes in the weather
    • Changes in the weather can trigger changes in brain chemicals including serotonin which can prompt a migraine.
  • Physical stress 
    • Intense exercise, physical activity, or even sexual activity can trigger migraines.
  • Food additives
    • Some food additives like nitrates and nitrites found in processed meats (hotdog, bacon, etc.). These additives can expand the blood vessels in your brain and can trigger migraines.

The 4 stages of a migraine headache

Migraine attacks differ from case to case. There are 4 stages of a migraine attack, but it’s not always that you’ll experience all 4.

You might get one, all, or a combination of these stages.

Stage 1: Prodrome

A prodrome is the term for early symptoms of a health problem preceding the major signs and symptoms.That means, an impending attack can rear its ugly head through a prodrome.

Days and hours before a migraine, some symptoms to look out for are:

  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Constipation or Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleep changes
  • Extreme thirst, frequent need to urinate
  • Bloating
  • Appetite changes (intense cravings or loss of appetite)

Stage 2: Aura

The aura stage lasts from 5 to 60 minutes. Common manifestations during the aura stage are:

  • Blurry vision or vision loss
  • Appearance of geometric patterns
  • Flashes of light
  • Blind spots in one or both eyes

Stage 3: Attack

The migraine attack itself can last from several hours to 3 days.

You’ll know when it’s a migraine attack because the pain shifts from one side to another, or begins from one side and slowly spreads to the other side. 

Aside from the headache, you might also experience the following during a migraine attack:

  • Nausea
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Sensitivity to light and sound, or smell

Stage 4: Postdrome

During this phase, you might still feel all the symptoms of a migraine attack. On top of that, you might also feel: 

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating

What are the types of migraine or migraine headaches

There are different types of migraine based on symptoms and causes. Here are the most common ones:

  • Migraine without aura
    • A migraine attack can manifest only as a pulsing and throbbing headache without the aura.
  • Migraine with aura
    • Migraine with aura is otherwise called a classic migraine. This is the migraine that is accompanied by visual disturbances.
  • Migraine with brainstem aura
    • Migraine with brainstem aura is a classic migraine accompanied with pain at the back of the head on both sides.
  • Chronic migraine
    • Your migraine can be considered as chronic if you experience it for 15 days out of a month, for at least 3 months.
  • Menstrual migraine
    • Menstrual migraines are triggered by your hormones. They come every month and revolve its timing around your period.
  • Acephalgic migraine
    • Otherwise known as the silent migraine, this is the type of migraine with just the aura (or virtual disturbances) without the headache.
  • Vestibular migraine
    • Vestibular migraines cause repeated dizziness or vertigo.
  • Abdominal
    • Abdominal migraines are characterized by abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. This type is common among children, but can happen to adults, too.
  • Hemiplegic
    • From the word hemiplegia which means weakness on one side of the body, hemiplegic migraine is a type of intense headache that comes with hemiplegia.
  • Ophthalmic migraine
    • An ophthalmic migraine or ocular migraine is a rare type of migraine that is accompanied by temporary blindness. 
  • Status migrainosus
    • This is the type of migraine that lasts for more than 72 hours. When this happens, we advise you to get medical help and visit your health care provider to get treated.
  • Ophthalmoplegic migraine
    • This type of migraine is a combination of the ophthalmic migraine and hemiplegic migraine. The pain from an opthalmoplegic migraine radiates from the head to the eyes and can cause muscle weakness around the eyes, causing visual disturbances and even double vision.

Risk Factors

Not everyone experiences migraine, so what makes some individuals more susceptible than others?

  • Gender
    • Women are more prone to migraines three times more than men. This is partly because some migraines are influenced by changes in the hormones.
  • Age
    • Younger people are more susceptible to migraines. Ages 10-40 are the ages when most people experience migraines and many find that migraines get better or go away after 50.
  • Genetics
    • If a parent has a history of migraine, it’s 50% likely that the child will also be prone to migraines. If both parents have a history of migraine, the chances increase to 75%.
  • Other neurologic conditions
    • Other neurologic conditions like depression and anxiety or even mental health issues like anxiety, bipolar disorder can make you more prone to migraines.

How to relieve a migraine attack

Now that we’ve discussed the types of migraine and signs to watch out for, let’s dive into how you can relieve and manage your migraines.

  • The first step to relieving a migraine is to minimize triggers. 
    • Turn off the lights. Use blackout curtains during the day if possible.
    • Cut out all visual stimuli. Refrain from using your electronic devices.
    • Relax in a quiet room. Cut out strong auditory stimuli if possible.
  • Pain Relief
    • Ice
      • Cold therapy helps with migraines since it helps constrict inflamed blood vessels. It also helps to divert the brain's response from 'pain' to 'cold.'
      • Depending on your preference, you can choose a cold pack big enough for your whole head, a migraine cap, or use a smaller ice pack for targeted pain relief.
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    • Triptans and NSAIDs
      • Triptans are a family of drugs made specifically for migraines. Apart from Triptans, NSAIDs (non-steroidal inflammatory drugs) are also helpful. Remember to use meds in moderation.
  • Hydrate
    • Dehydration is a major factor for migraines. Make sure to drink enough water, especially during hotter seasons. 
  • Practice relaxation
    • Breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation can ease symptoms of migraine
  • Exercises to help with headaches
    • Some stretches and exercises can help ease your symptoms. Watch some of them below:

    Can you prevent a migraine?

    If you already know your migraine triggers, it'll be easier for you to spot early signs and prepare for a migraine attack. There is no way to prevent a migraine, but a few things can help in managing it.

    • Keep a migraine diary. This will help you identify your triggers, learn to avoid them, spot early signs of an attack, and equip yourself with things that can help you out.
    • Manage stress. Since stress is one of the common triggers of migraine, modalities like meditation, yoga, and breath work can help regulate your emotions under stressful circumstances.
    • Eat on a regular schedule. To avoid fluctuations in your blood sugar levels, eat regularly on a schedule.
    • Drink lots of fluids. Avoid dehydration that can cause migraine attacks.
    • Get enough sleep regularly. 
    • Exercise. Endorphins are the body's natural pain reliever. The more you exercise, the more endorphins are released.
    • Take extra care on your period. Be mindful during your period since the hormone changes can trigger migraines.
    • Stay away from sensory overload.
    • Observe your sensitivity to caffeine and alcohol

    When to see a doctor

    Migraines usually are not dangerous, but how do you know when your migraine attack needs medical intervention? Contact your health provider if you experience any of the following:

    • Loss of vision or consciousness 
    • Severe nausea
    • Uncontrollable vomiting
    • Trouble with speech, confusion
    • Seizures
    • Loss of balance or falling
    • Numbness or tingling
    • If your headache lasts more than 72 hours with less than 4 hours without pain

    Final Thoughts

    Migraines are inconvenient and debilitating, but there are ways to manage migraine which includes keeping a migraine diary, stress management, and stocking up on essentials to ease your symptoms when it strikes.

    Blackout curtains, triptans, NSAIDs, and cold therapy can all help. For your cold therapy needs, IceWraps carries a wide range of high quality, medical-grade gel packs and clay packs for pain relief.

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