If you've ever had a severe migraine, you know how completely debilitating they can be. The aura, the pain, the photosensitivity, the nausea: it's sensory overload that can quite literally leave you speechless and unable to function. Migraines impact both adults and children, men and women, and can first occur at almost any age. However, because migraines aren't life-threatening, many people never seek medical support for their migraines, which means they live with potentially resolvable pain.
A few years back, I developed severe migraines. The first one occurred at work and was so overwhelming that I ran to the ladies' room, overcome with nausea, and then promptly passed out on the floor. When the EMTs arrived, they thought I might be suffering a brain aneurysm, as I had no history of migraine and was both uncontrollably nauseated and in extreme pain. From there on out, I had migraines, and I still get them sometimes, but fortunately, I've learned a few tricks along the way that have helped lessen the frequency, intensity, and duration of my migraines.
1. I cut out soda and Splenda, basically everything with aspartame in it. This in and of itself cut my migraines by more than half. Within two weeks, I didn't miss my lunchtime Diet Coke at all, and when I tried one again after a month or so, I had an immediate and intense migraine. Many people report that they see an aspartame connection with their migraines, so cutting it from your diet even temporarily should give you a good idea of whether they're connected to your migraines.
2. I cut MSG (monosodium glutamate) and noticed an even bigger decrease in my migraines. While most people associate MSG with Chinese food, it's worth noting that plenty of processed foods (I even spotted it in frozen breakfast sausage patties the other day!) contain MSG. Many Chinese restaurants will withhold MSG on request. However, if you're particularly sensitive to it, this powder can easily cross-contaminate your dish in a restaurant kitchen, and mistakes happen. Personally, I switched to sushi and gave up my monthly Kung Pao.
3. I started paying attention to every little twinge for a while. Biofeedback is not easy. Most of us aren't naturally inclined to make a note of eye twitch or neck cramp. But if you pay close attention and even journal your sensations for a month or so, odds are you'll start to recognize patterns, particularly if you suffer aura migraines. For me, that meant learning that a sore neck or a feeling of tired eyes, a sudden sense of fatigue, and mild stomach upset all tended to coincide with the hours preceeding a migraine. Once you can recognize your migraine precursors, you can often either prevent the migraine or diminish the intensity or duration by taking early treatment measures.
4. I get my eyes checked annually and take frequent screen breaks in my day. Regardless of industry, many of us work at computers many hours a day. Taking steps to reduce eye strain by paying attention to your eye health and giving yourself, "tech breaks" can help limit eye-strain-related migraines.
5. I avoid cigarette smoke and chemicals. I found that after being someplace where people were smoking near me, I was very likely to have a migraine. I found the same was true after I scrubbed the bathrooms or was in an industrial setting. By moving to more natural cleaners and steam cleaning, I limited my chemical exposure. And I avoid industrial environments, particularly if I can smell any sort of chemical product.
With some dietary and behavioral changes, I reduced my migraines from one or even two severe migraines a week to one or two mild migraines a month. Stress management and biofeedback have also been helpful for me. For some people, these natural approaches to migraine management are really helpful. For others, only pharmaceuticals help, and for others, things like acupuncture or acupressure help tremendously. It's all about trial and error and finding what works for you. And of course, you should consult your primary care physician, who may recommend visits to a neurologist and/or pain managment specialists. Additionally, sometimes people find that allergies and migraines are linked, so seeking the opinion of an allergist or immunologist is often beneficial in migraine-trigger avoidance.
Of course, a sudden and severe migraine did leave me unable to speak once, and without any history, the EMTs had to put me on a backboard to check for a head injury that first time when I passed out at work. That's why my Lauren's Hope medical ID bracelet bears the line, "HX SVR MIGRAINE" for "history of severe migraine." This way, if I'm ever in that position again of not being able to advocate for myself, first responders will know that there's a chance I'm suffering a severe migraine and try treating that first. Additionally, I'm allergic to a standard antiemetic drug commonly provided in ERs and ambulances, so I include that on my tag as well.
Do you include your migraines on your medical alert bracelet? Have you used natural means to control your migraines? We want to hear from you!