Suffering from migraines? Here’s how to make them stop
Suffering from migraines? Here’s how to make them stop by Image: Shutterstock
“If you think a migraine is just a headache, then maybe you also suppose that Godzilla is just a lizard,” runs the popular meme. But for people who suffer from the excruciating pain of a one-sided headache, facing this social bias is quite the norm. Fact is, whenever one gets a migraine attack, there is an unbearable throbbing pain over the eyebrow (usually on one side), the level of which keeps increasing with every pulse, and it may radiate to the neck and shoulder too. A migraine is one of the most widespread and incapacitating medical conditions out there, and it vexes an estimated 10-15 per cent of the world’s population. Dr Peter Goadsby, professor of Neurology at King’s College London and one of the leading experts on this debilitating neurological condition, has mentioned in various interviews that one of the very big myths about migraine is that it is just a headache. Though migraine attacks do not pose any significant threat to overall health, they do cause significant disability, even if it is temporary. What is a migraine?
Medically, headaches are divided into two categories, primary and secondary. A migraine is a type of primary headache that is characterised by a throbbing headache, often in one side of the head, frequently accompanied by nausea, vomiting and an extreme sensitivity to light and sound. “The frequency of the episodes may vary from several per week to once in several months,” informs Dr Rajnish Kumar, unit head and senior consultant of neurology, Paras Hospitals, Gurgaon. “An episode may last between four to 72 hours. Migraines can affect individuals of any age, sex or ethnicity. However, it usually arises during puberty or young adulthood and in fact, affects women more than men. Also, migraines are hereditary, that is, they tend to run in the family.”
Going to migraine attacks, there are two main types here as well: common migraines and migraines with an aura. An aura consists of a temporary and fully reversible disturbance (visual, auditory, sensory and autonomic) that precedes the onset of a headache. “During an aura, [the] patient may experience visual disturbances such as viewing flashing lights, dots, lines, or a loss of vision. Also, patients often experience numbness, extreme tingling, a loss of balance and an altered sense of smell or speech difficulties. An aura can last from five minutes to an hour,” adds Kumar.
Though the exact cause of migraine headaches is still unknown, the primary recognised triggers are stress and anxiety . Lack of sleep and skipped meals are lifestyle habits that can invite the throbbing pain, and so can certain odours, bright lights and loud noises. Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle and weather changes are factors that can precipitate an attack too. Migraine brains are susceptible to change and thrive in regularity and consistency of behaviour. If a routine is followed, whether it is getting up or going to sleep at a particular time, or having meals at regular intervals, it helps. How to manage a migraine
Medical experts may argue that a migraine is not life-threatening, but it is definitely a life-altering condition. Migraine sufferers experience a diminished quality of life , along with compromised physical, social and occupational functioning. The basis for preventive treatment is that the underlying risk factors for a migraine can be changed before migraine attacks become more frequent. Medical treatments for a migraine
The conventional medicine system believes that migraines cannot be cured, but they can be controlled. Your physician may encourage you to keep a headache diary where you record the time, frequency, related events etc, in order to help you identify and avoid possible triggers. To deal with migraines, even conventional medicine recommends alternate therapies such as relaxation and meditation. “Moderate migraine attacks are usually treated with over-the-counter drugs to control the pain: analgesics (acetylsalicylic acid or acetaminophen) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen). If accompanied by nausea or vomiting, antiemetic drugs may also be taken,” advises Dr Kumar. He adds that to control migraine headaches that are severe and frequent in nature, preventive drugs such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers and antidepressants or anticonvulsants are found to be effective too. However, consult your doctor to take the side effects into account, which will influence the choice of medications along with other factors like age, pregnancy , medical conditions, lactation and menstruation. Natural remedies for migraines
When in the thick of a pulsating painful migraine attack, try ice packs and heating pads to relax tense muscles. Warm showers or baths may have a similar effect. Take a nap in a quiet and cool dark room or take a quick walk in fresh air. The age-old hack of treating a migraine with a cup of black coffee actually works, since caffeine in small amounts can relieve migraine in the early stages or enhance the pain-reducing effects of acetaminophen. Ask someone to rub your neck and back, or treat yourself to a DIY massage. For best results, mix a few drops of lavender or basil essential oils with carrier oils and rub it on your head. Apply gentle, steady, rotating pressure to the painful areas with your index finger or thumb. Close your eyes and switch off from the world around you. Ayurvedic therapies for migraines
Ayurveda believes in curing the cause rather than suppressing the symptoms. It resorts more to therapies than pain-killers to manage long-term relief. Shirolepa is effective in treating mental exhaustion caused due to stress. In this, therapeutic herbs are mixed to form pastes, which are applied on the head and covered with the help of a plantain leaf for an hour. Another popular therapy is Shirodhara, where a thin continuous stream of warm oil is poured over the forehead, the area where our nerves are highly concentrated. The gentle force of the oil creates a relaxing vibration on the forehead, which allows our mind and nervous system to experience a profound state of mental rest. The feeling is almost similar to that of meditation. Sneha Nasaya is another effective technique where medicated oils are administered through the nasal route. Yogic asanas for migraines
According to yoga, flushing out toxins is important for treating migraine. Hence, cleansing techniques play a big role. “It’s also imperative to cleanse the stomach. Kunjal (yogic practice to cleanse the digestive tract between the stomach and mouth) and Jal Neti (cleansing of the nasal passages by irrigation with salted lukewarm water), both can be done daily for one week,” advises Dr Sandeep Agarwalla, the yoga expert at Ananda in the Himalayas. “If you experience abdominal cramping, then practice Kunjal [and Jal] Neti on alternate days.” At this award-winning destination spa, many treatments are catered to provide long-term relief from chronic migraine attacks. Yoga practitioners believe that you breathe your headache away. Techniques of alternate nostril breathing, such as Nadi Shodhan and Anulom Viloma, are beneficial in gaining mastery over your nervous system, and consequently migraines. If those prone to migraines learn the art of managing the stress, the frequency and intensity of these headaches can be reduced, states Dr Agarwalla. She also recommends imbibing the art of witnessing the thoughts or Antar Mouna for introspection and mental peace. “This meditation technique gives a deep insight into the area of mental tensions and emotional turbulence, and helps one to take a step towards inner understanding and attaining emotional and mental harmony within.” Though, keep in mind that expert guidance is mandatory while learning the techniques. Also read: