Migraines are a common problem, affecting about 37 million Americans, so why are migraines still a mystery? Even the experts still don’t really understand the complexity surrounding migraines. While we’ve come a long way from the days when migraine headaches were considered a psychological problem, we’re still a long way from knowing what causes them. Slowly, treatments for migraine headaches are progressing, as scientists strive to understand this common ailment.
Here’s what we do know:
- Millions of American suffer from migraine headaches.
- A child has 50% of having them if one parent suffers.
- A child has 75% of having them if both parents suffer.
- Most young adults have experienced a severe headache before high school.
- You can track your headache triggers to try and prevent one.
- Your hormones and the weather can dictate the onset of a severe headache.
- Most people will smell a certain aura before the onset of a headache.
- Caffeine can both trigger a migraine and relieve one.
- Severe headaches can lead to secondary side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise
For many years, the prevailing theory has been that migraines are a vascular disorder, but now it appears they are actually a brain disorder. While it used to be thought that constriction and dilation of blood vessels in the brain caused the pain, it now seems more likely that migraines somehow “hijack” the normal pain circuitry of the brain.
New research centers around the trigeminal nerve, which seems to be responsible for transmitting the pain. Another focus of research is a brain chemical called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which aids in blood vessel constriction and inflammation, and seems to play a role in pain transmission, but not in other functions of the brain. Triptans, used to treat migraines, have proven useful in blocking the release of CGRP in the trigeminal nerve, and some researchers are even working on creating artificial antibodies that would absorb CGRP in the bloodstream before it can cause a migraine.
Why Are Migraines Still a Mystery?
Still, the more we know about migraines, the more we’re aware of all we don’t know. With this limited understanding, the only option is to treat migraines using the best information available. There are certainly triggers to avoid, like nitrates, cheese, chocolate, onions, caffeine, and msg, but how likely is it that an individual who suffers from migraines is really going to go out of their way to avoid these items?
Part of what makes migraines so confounding, however, is that these triggers vary widely among migraine sufferers. While one person may succumb to a migraine after indulging in chocolate or cheese, another might suffer no ill effects from either of those, but be guaranteed a day of misery after so much as a bite of raw onion. What’s even more confusing is the inclusion of caffeine in the common trigger list, because many people with migraines swear by caffeine as a remedy. So, given all we do not completely understand, what’s the best way to treat a migraine? It varies, but here are some tactics to try:
How to Beat Your Migraine:
- Track your triggers. Especially if you’re getting migraines often, keep a journal of your diet and activities. Once you know your own triggers, you’ll be better able to avoid migraines.
- Mind your allergies. Experts aren’t sure why nasal allergies and migraines seem to be linked, but they think that inflammatory chemicals released during an allergy attack may activate the trigeminal nerve. Sometimes, treating your allergy can relieve your migraine.
- Take some magnesium. Some studies have shown that people who suffer from headaches may be low on magnesium.
- Eat your Wheaties. Having breakfast every morning deters the hypothalamus from being activated and causing headaches.
- Get some Omega 3s. Found in fatty fish and plants, Omega 3s have proven effective in blocking pain signaling in the nervous system. Chronic headache sufferers can sometimes actually change the brain’s chemical makeup by eating a diet rich in Omega 3s and low in Omega 6s, reducing the frequency and duration of migraines.
- Head it off at the pass. The minute you sense a migraine coming on, take action. Take medication, take a nap, do whatever works for you, but do it immediately, as delaying can prolong the duration of the migraine.
- Look for alternatives to medication. Many physical medicine practices and chiropractic care have been shown to be useful in alleviating migraine headaches at the source.
All American Healthcare is familiar with patients suffering from chronic neck pain and migraines. In order to help patients achieve optimum wellness, we take a holistic approach, using treatments like chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, and more, to work with the body’s natural healing processes. Contact our office today to learn more about alleviating your chronic pain, and getting you back on the path to good health.