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Migraines are the epitome of all pain they do not only attack your head—the pain resonates to your ears, jaw, neck, face, eyes, stomach, and even your hair hurts. I have suffered from chronic migraine disorder for my entire life. My earliest memory of having migraines was in 5th grade when my teacher said to me, “You do not look so good, do you need to go to the nurse?” I wanted to, but I couldn’t move because I could not see, I told her that there were “rainbows” going across in front of my eyes. This is known as the aura stage and I will explain that in this post.
Migraines are debilitating they have effected my ability to work, enjoy my life, and my ability to just be a human being. I live in fear that I will get a migraine during a family event, or just wake up with one and my day is shot dealing with a migraine instead of dealing with being a mom, doing my job, caring for those I love. I have to constantly be prepared to “fight” a migraine I have my medication, my oils, and my plan all the time. It is just like any other chronic disease preparation is key.
Never let anyone tell you that this is just a headache, unless you have made it through one, they have no idea the intensity and the effects. If someone could simulate the pain for those that do not suffer, they would be amazed at the intensity, the impact to the entire body, and the process our body goes through after the attack is over. That is exactly what it is… an attack!!! My daughter Olivia recently had her first migraine, and I did the tricks outlined below for her and she was in the sleep stage within an hour of the peak of the migraine. She looked at me while she was in the tub and said “mommy, how do you live through this?” I just looked at her and thought to myself, sometimes I do not know. But I will say this, and no, I will not hurt myself, but after suffering through these for so many years, I do understand how those that have chronic pain consider taking their lives.
What are Migraines?
The medical definition is a throbbing headache normally on one side of the head, with or without disturbed vision, accompanied usually by nausea. What that definition does not include is the writhing pain in the side of your head that makes driving, talking, working, going outside of a dark room, or even being somewhat human nearly impossible…. Oh and the daily, chronic, living fear that while you are out enjoying your life that a migraine will hit out of nowhere, without warning, or care for what you have going on that day.
Migraines come in stages – that is a fact and learning what stage you are in will help you figure out what it is that you need to do to get relief.
Keep in mind, you may not go through all of these all the time, sometimes you may jump directly to the main attack phase. Or the “please just let it stop phase.”
Stage 1: Warning phase—this is when you “feel” a migraine coming on and if you ignore it you will proceed into the other phases, if not and you try and combat it, you may be able to lessen the duration and intensity. Some research indicates that in this stage you may have cravings, feel thirsty, or start to feel a stiff neck or jaw pain. I find that when this stage does hit, I usually feel like I am getting a sinus infection. That is what it feels like for me anyway, pain in my face, sore throat, runny nose, pain across my head, in my ears, and hard time concentrating on anything.
The warning phase may have a great deal to do with the trigger that is causing the migraine to begin with.
Stage 2: The Aura stage– can be the first stage of any migraine if the warning phase was not intense enough for us to recognize. This stage is where the eye sight is effected, because there can be a change in the cortex area of the brain, which impacts the ability to see, cause spots, or rainbows, or as I like to call them my own personal fireworks display. This stage can also cause dizziness or vertigo for some folks. Other research shows that people who are in this stage also can feel out of it, or lose of memory, confusion, or just nethargic across the board. This is usually for me anyway the stage where my jaw hurts, and I feel that if I could crack my neck one good time, my headache may go away. The aura stage is not the same for everyone, or during each migraine they can be different.
The aura could be impacted by what the trigger was and by learning what your triggers are, you can learn what to have on hand. I believe that Young Living Oils have helped me a great deal. Recently, my daughter and my boyfriend both had a migraine, I filled my diffusor with peppermint, and placed peppermint oil under both of their noses to help reduce the tension headache they were experiencing. Both proclaimed that the peppermint oil made the tension in their heads go away, and my boyfriend said that the peppermint helped so much that he was knocked out for hours. He was able to get up from bed and fix the dryer for me. He even felt so good that he was able to mop the floors and pick up the house. Now, I am not saying that the peppermint did that… but it really helped him.
I am also an avid user of Young Living Stress away oil—I have this in a diffusor bracelet that I wear to work, and I have a bottle of it at my office for days when the stress is over the top. Just the scent helps me feel more calm.
Stage 3: The Attack– This is the perod of time where the headache is so intense that you are physically at war with your own body, the pain is so severe that you cannot move, breathe, open your eyes, look at a phone, or a light and have to be in a cool dark room to just make it to the other side of this attack. I usually have to vomit about this point, or I already have and are just waiting for the attack to be over.
Stage 4: Recovery– Ahhhhhhh… relief, here it comes, it is subsiding like the feeling you get in your stomach when you are coming down off of the roller coaster ride. But, we are not done yet… this is touch and go– you may think that you are getting relief, however, doing too much or looking out at a snowy field, or watching tv, answering emails, looking at your phone, etc. can put you right back into the Attack stage. This is however, the best feeling in the world—because you have made it… if you keep yourself resting and being aware you will proceed to the next stage of recovery.
Stage 5: True recovery stage– This is when you start to get your appetite back, actually, this is when you are ready to eat anything and everything in your path. You start to feel like yourself, but you still have some effects which the experts call “hangover” stage, it is like you are a little drunk, and out of it as well. I giggle to myself because this mirrors what I would think a high college student would look like, “just give me food!” You still have to be very careful in this stage and this can last a day or two—you will feel beat up. After what I call a major migraine, it can take a day for me to get my energy back.
What causes migraines?:
According to some medical professionals the migraine pain occurs because of triggering of the trigeminal nerve which release chemicals into the body, and once those chemicals are released it causes the blood vessels in the brain to swell. The migraine pain is the result of the blood vessel pressing against your skull. Normally, migraines will occur on one side of your head each time, they will continue to resonate on that same side.
Below is a list of “triggers” or possible causes for migraines
1. Dehydration – not drinking enough water in a day, can be the cause of many medical issues but headaches are primarily caused by dehydration from lack of water, or drinking too much alcohol.
2. Medications – check the side effects of any medications you are currently on.
3. Change in Weather – I find this to be particularly true in the Spring when the pollen is blooming, so my sinuses are particularly swollen. A migraine sufferer can usually sense when a change in pressure is coming, it is the one treat that we get, we can predict the weather. HAHAHAHA
4. Overheated – when your body becomes overheated it can increase your blood pressure which can increase the pressure in your head, and bang a migraine—drink plenty of water.
5. Odors – being around people who wear too much perfume, or household cleaners that are offensive to your senses can also trigger a migraine. The odor that causes me issues is Rose perfume. Young living has an excellent cleaner called thieves which is a more natural alternative to heavy manufactured cleaners.
6. Foods – my research over the years has found that many foods are triggers for migraines such as processed foods like homemade breads, pistachios, lunch meats and cheeses, fast food, hotdogs, chocolate, energy drinks, and salty foods. I have yet to find a food that triggers a migraine, but I will say that my love for red bull does not help.
7. Lack of proper hours of sleep – as we all know we are better when we get the 8 hours of recommended sleep, even though some folks can live on much less.
8. Light or too much screen time – spending too much time on your phone, laptop, tv, etc. can trigger a migraine, too much activity or blue light will keep your brain “moving” instead of letting it relax Remember: your brain is a muscle, it needs it rest as well it needs to relax and turn off. My neurologist told me once that he was not surprised that I had migraines with the brain activity one of the tests reflected.
9. STRESS!!! – Stress is the number 1 reason why people get migraines—in my experience and research this is the reason why most neurologists put most migraine sufferers on anti-depressants. Now do not get me wrong, they are helpful and they do help alleviate the impact stress has on certain receptors in our brains that run the stress reactions, but, coming off of them is a nightmare. I decided I did not want to be on them any longer, and it took several months of “brain zaps,” emotional mood swings, insomnia, irritability, and dizziness to get them out of my system. I determined I wanted to try more natural ways of alleviating stress. Also you cannot come off of them without your doctors assistance. I encourage you to have a discussion with your doctor before you decide to come off any medication.
10. Alcohol or sugary drinks – I am not saying that you cannot have any of these, just know that you can have them in moderation, too much is dangerous for anything especially if you suffer from migraines.
11. Hormones – As a friend said to me once “when you become a women of a certain age…” some studies have shown as we leave the child bearing years and head to our middle age, or later we have a drop in estrogen. Estrogen controls the chemicals in our brain that affect the sensation of pain. Reducing the manufacturing of estrogen or progesterone right before monthly periods as well will increase the likelihood that a migraine will creep into your life. Something else to talk to your doctor about is your birth control and the hormones in them.
12. Diet – We spoke about this a little bit above, but you know the old saying “you are what you eat…” processed foods, high calorie, greasy content, all the bad stuff can increase your chances of getting a migraine.
8 ways to help alleviate migraines
There is no cure for migraines, even though there is a ton of research there is no rhyme to why they come on or how we can get rid of them. Below are some of the tricks I have learned in decades I have been suffering with migraines.
1. Hot water & cold wrap — This is the best option for me, it works like a charm. Draw yourself a HOT bath, when I say hot, as hot a you can stand without burning yourself. Get into the tub, sit up if you have to but the most important thing is getting the highest volume of your organs into the water. Take something cold, a bag of vegetables, bag of ice, cold packs, etc. and place that on the side of your head where the migraine is sitting. I will caution against using anything too smelly like vegetables because the smell can actually intensify the migraine. The purpose of this process is that the cold will help reduce the inflammation in the brain, and the hot will draw the blood out of your brain and into your body. Hence the reason to get most of your organs into the hot water, this will help draw the blood out of the swollen vein faster.
2. Vomiting – I know this sounds counter-productive, but it works. Usually I already have an upset stomach when get a migraine, once I have sat in the bath tub for about 30 minutes the heat will cause the vomiting to begin on its own. Drink some water, this will also cause the vomiting to begin. I usually can start to recover from the migraine once I have vomited a few times.
3. Medication – This only works if you get you migraine medication into your system fast enough, when you feel the migraine coming on, otherwise if you wait too long, the medication is worthless. However, I have found that prescription medication does not always work, I have found that Excedrin Migraine works very well for me regardless of what stage of the migraine I am in.
4. Heat – Again, I know this is against what the trigger list says, but sometimes the heat on your shoulders or tense muscles can also help alleviate the pain associated with migraines. I have a shoulder wrap that I got at CVS called the “Herbal Concepts Neck and Shoulder Wrap” this is helpful because it is infused with lavender which has its own set of calming elements. You can make your own version of this by wetting a hand towel placing 8-10 drop of Lavender Young Living Essential oils on the cloth, and heat it up in the microwave for a few minutes.
5. Medical injections – Your doctor can discuss this option with you, the injection is another version of a serotonin receptor agonist, in plain English, it is a fast paced injection that will reduce the pain inhibitors that cause the migraine. I have only had one of these one time, and it worked very well, because I was in the aura stage all day, and by the time I got to the doctors office, thinking I was having a sinus infection, the migraine turned into a full blown nightmare where I could not even open my eyes.
6. Tiger Balm and Peppermint Oil — I have a friend of mine who swears by tiger balm in order to reduce the impact of her migraines, especially when she gets them at work. She would prefer not to take her prescription medication while at work since it does knock her out. Rub the tiger balm on your temples, and as under your nose, I find it helps but I am more prone to getting relief from using Peppermint. And in a pinch, I have used Vicks vapor rub as well under my nose. Peppermint oil can be purchased also with this link to Young Living Essential Oils. Keep in mind that Young Living does not claim to cure migraines.
7. Drinking a caffeinated drink – Caffeine can be a accelerant for migraine, but most migraine medications have some caffeine in them to reduce the migraine impact.
8. Sleep – Once you are able to get some point of comfort, get sleep. Usually for me sleep comes after I have been in the tub, vomited, and most times used Peppermint or my neck wrap to get me to some level of comfort. Sleep in a dark room, away from noise, and keep the room cool if you can. Usually after the migraine starts to go away, this is what we call the recovery stage, there is a recovery cycle that happens after the migraine stops. Most migraine sufferers say that once the migraine starts to go away they have to sleep, because they have to recover as the migraine takes so much out of them.
These are the 8 things that work for me, however, there are many more like acupuncture, massage therapy, gene therapy, anti-depressants, reducing and alleviating stress as much as possible. As with any information that I share this is just what worked for me, as I am not a Doctor.
The outcome of being a life long migraine sufferer is that I am always prepared to “fight” a migraine because it is a fight to the end game of that stage where I feel the migraine is subsiding enough to be human again and then I can sleep the rest of it off.
I have had so many that there is a outcome that I learned about from my neurologist and have been doing some research on myself as well. After a migraine, the brain is still repairing because of the swelling, there are “bruises” left behind and after so many years of having migraines in the same spot I have a “bruise” on my brain. Recently, I discovered an article on “white matter” caused by migraines. I am not a neurologist but this is what I got from the article, constant bruising of the brain will lead to a collection of “scar tissue” called white matter lesions. Or, the area where chronic migraines hit is made up of the white matter there are cells calls axons which facilitate the communication in the brain. The articles I have read state that the white matter patches that show up on MRI’s become small infarcts or areas of tissue that undergo tissue death due to the cessation of the blood supply over time. The patches are indicators of damage to the axons. The research does not indicate that those that have the white matter on their brains are at any more risk for other diseases such as Alzheimer’s or MS or anything such as that. The white matter will develop as a result of a migraine with a longer Aura period. And the white matter does not in fact cause the migraines as I had once believed that this “bruise” or “weakness” in my migraine area were causing them to come on more frequently. They are simply (again, not a Doctor, but from the research I found) just part of the process, and do not have any additional impact to the duration or intensity of the migraine itself.
Check in with your neurologist if you are a chronic migraine sufferer, also there is a great deal of information available from the American Migraine Foundation, The National Migraine Association, and Headaches.org.
Once I get my Pinterest page set up for the blog I will also save my Migraine board so that others who suffer can check out my research.
Much love & respect