Migraines are intense headaches, usually on one side of the head, often described as pulsating, throbbing, perforating, pounding or debilitating.  Nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light (photophobia) or sound, numbness, tingling and difficulty talking, and visual disturbances can occur. They can start in childhood or early adult life, affect women more and can run in families. Often when a migraine occurs they can stop you in your tracks and you are unable to work.  Carrying out daily tasks can be very difficult and you may just want to lie in a dark quiet room until it passes. They can be classified as Common migraines with no aura, or Classic migraines with aura.  The frequency of migraines varies, they can occur rarely, or at regular, commonly monthly intervals or more frequently.


Migraine vs Headaches

There is an overlap between migraines and headaches and an exact diagnosis is not always clear-cut.  Clients often call a severe headache a migraine and commonly the neck and spine is involved with both conditions.  Chiropractic care has been shown to help migraines, especially when there is a clear spinal or neck involvement.

Four stages of migraine

Migraine Prodrome – early symptoms

lasts a few hours or 1-2 days before:

Mood changes, Anxiety, depression, euphoria. Difficulty concentrating. Tiredness, yawning. stiff muscles and neck especially, nausea, increased urination or thirst, difficulty sleeping. Unusual food cravings.

During this phase it may be possible to reduce the severity or prevent a full a full-blown migraine.

Taking medication early and avoiding or reducing the trigger factors. It may be avoiding specific foods or alcohol and practicing relaxation or Alexander Technique to reduce stress both physically and mentally.

Migraine Aura

One-third of migraine sufferers experience aura which build gradually and last 5-60 minutes, sometimes longer. Blurred vision, seeing shapes, blind spots, bright spots or flashing/shimmering light, or loss of vision in one or both eyes. Headaches may occur before, during or after the aura, or not develop. Other symptoms include pins and needles, weakness or numbness in the face, on one side, or one arm or leg. Difficulty speaking, noise and light sensitivity. Lack of muscular control, perhaps with jerking movements

Migraine Headache or Attack

Migraine headaches usually last from several hours up to three days and range from being mild to debilitating.  Pain can throb, pulse or change sides left or right (often starting one side and moving to the other) or be on both sides.  Nausea, light, sound and smell sensitivity, with inability to sleep. Carrying out normal everyday activities can be very difficult during the attack phase.

During an attack, many people find sleeping or lying in a quiet darkened room can help.

Migraine Post-drome or ‘migraine hangover’

Occurs about 80% of the time. The length of the phase can vary, or not occur at all. Some migraine sufferers report the hangover or feeling washed out can be as debilitating as the headache. Fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain, lack of concentration, dizziness and sensitivity to light are common symptoms.  Avoiding the triggers, relaxation activities, drinking water and avoiding stress can all help

Causes of Migraine

The exact cause is not fully understood, Migraine is considered to be a neurological condition, that triggers temporary changes in blood flow in the brain, and chemicals like serotonin, that helps regulate pain in the nervous system and neurotransmitters such as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). The brainstem and the trigeminal nerve may also be involved.  They generally peak during your 30s, and gradually become less severe and less frequent in the following decades.

Some people find migraine attacks are associated with certain triggers, which can include:

Stress and tiredness

Stress at work or home can cause migraines, along with emotional anxiety

Sleep changes: not enough or too much sleep, or altered sleep routines, like travelling or jet lag

Hormonal changes in women causing Migraine.

Women are three times more likely to have migraines, often occurring shortly after onset of menstruation with oestrogen fluctuations. Pregnancy may alter the frequency and generally migraines improve after menopause.

Oral hormonal contraceptives and HRT, hormone replacement therapy can affect migraines, however for some women seem to reduce their frequency of migraines.

Nutrition and Foods related to Migraine

The four classic ‘C’s that can cause migraine are Cheese, Coffee, Citrus and Chocolate

Processed foods and excess salt.

Skipping meals or fasting

Alcohol, especially wine.

Food additives such as sweetener aspartame and preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG),

Other causes of Migraine

Genetics and environmental factors may play a role, as about half of all migraine sufferers also have a close relative with the condition.

Sensory stimuli. Bright lights and sun glare can induce migraines, as can loud sounds.

Strong smells — including perfume, paint thinner, second-hand smoke and others

Intense physical exertion, including sexual activity

A weather or barometric pressure change

Medical Complications

Over use of Medications can cause migraines: Excess triptans, sumatriptan (Imitrex, Tosymra) or rizatriptan (Maxalt) (see also Medication-overuse headache)

Treatment for Migraine

Medical treatment for Migraine

These include over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen or Triptans – medicines that can help reverse the changes in the brain that may cause migraines.

High blood pressure medication can be prescribed

Amitriptyline and tricyclic antidepressants have been used, or Nortriptyline

If you have nausea or vomiting, your doctor may suggest anti-nausea or antiemetic drugs.

Alternative or complementary approaches for helping Migraine

There are many alternative treatments and lifestyle changes that can all help Migraine.  For many migraine sufferers the medication over the counter or prescribed by their doctors do not help significantly and do have side-effects.  They may help reduce symptoms if they are taken early enough, but many clients look for more effective, safer long-term treatment.

Healthy Lifestyle changes to help Migraine

Regular exercise, reduced stress, relaxation, mindfulness relaxing activities can all help.

Getting regular sleep and eating regularly, staying well hydrated and reducing coffee and alcohol.

Yoga, Pilates, Alexander Technique,  Acupuncture, Massage or Acupressure, Reflexology, and Mindfulness can all help general stress and tension and for some this may cure or greatly reduce the severity of the migraines.

Seeing a nutritionist for diet coaching is a very sensible idea to help tackle whether there are any nutritional links or triggers for migraine.