Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wellness Wednesdays: Understanding Migraines

Oh!
image courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

This post is a little late in the day for Wellness Wednesday, and there is a good reason for that: I’ve been sick.  Unfortunately, I – along with approximately 29 ½ million other people in the U.S. – suffer from chronic migraines, a condition that, I must say, totally sucks.
 
I started experiencing symptoms on Friday evening and, as I normally do, began treating myself in an attempt to abort the oncoming migraine attack.  With medication I was able to manage my symptoms through Saturday, but, unfortunately, Sunday morning I woke up with excruciating head pain accompanied by nausea.  And, to make a long story short, I became violently ill (read: projectile vomiting) during the course of the day.  By Monday evening I felt better, but was still pretty wiped out on Tuesday.  Turns out I not only had a migraine, but I also contracted a virus (which I may write about next week.  Or maybe not.  Depends on what type of mood I’m in.)

Nonetheless, the whole experience led me to re-examine my personal habits and actions I take to try and avoid migraine attacks altogether.  While I have been unable to make myself completely migraine-free, my doctor and I have been able to make progress in diminishing the frequency of my attacks, and I’d like to share some of my findings with you in the hopes that they may provide some ideas for those of you who also suffer from these debilitating attacks.

According to the National Headache Foundation, “The pain of migraine occurs when excited brain cells trigger the trigeminal nerve to release chemicals that irritate and cause swelling of blood vessels on the surface of the brain. These swollen blood vessels send pain signals to the brainstem, an area of the brain that processes pain information.”  A migraine diagnosis is made by establishing the history of migraine-related headaches in conjunction with examining a family history of similar headache symptoms.  I have suffered from migraine-type headaches since I was nine years old (yes, I do remember the very first time I endured a migraine.  I remember exactly where I was and how it felt), and my brother combats migraine attacks, as well.

Treatment for migraines varies from over-the-counter medications to prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and various other therapies that may include oral medications, self-injections, or even nasal sprays.  Most of these treatments are intended to help abort the onset of a migraine and as such must be taken as early on as possible in order to be effective.  Unfortunately, if a patient is unable to treat at the onset of an attack (which happened to me recently when I had an attack while I was sleeping), the only recourse is to attempt to manage the pain for the duration of the attack (which can last up to 72 hours, or longer).

Obviously, the best way to treat migraines is to try and avoid them altogether.  While this process is long, tedious, and incredibly imprecise, it is not impossible.  The main thing I have been looking at over the past several years is trying to establish a discernible pattern with my attacks in order to determine possible triggers both in my diet and lifestyle which may contribute to the onset of my migraine attacks.

Common migraine triggers can be stress, diet, disturbances in sleep patterns, activity, psychological issues, nicotine, and inactivity, among many others.  I have found that stress definitely contributes to the occurrence of my migraines and whenever I find myself feeling a bit overwhelmed I simply take a couple ibuprofen and usually I am able to avert an attack.  I have also learned that flying can induce a migraine so about half an hour before takeoff I take some ibuprofen and, poof! I’m good to go when we land.  The most recent trigger I have been trying to identify is sugar.  At the end of the summer I began experimenting with the notion of avoiding sugar altogether and had some success.  While I still experienced an occasional migraine, they were much less frequent than before I began monitoring my sugar intake.  Additionally, I can attribute two of the last three attacks (including this most recent one) to a period when I allowed my sugar intake to surge higher than normal.  Based on this VERY unscientific analysis, I have decided that it is safe to say that sugar triggers migraines for me and I would be very wise to avoid it as much as possible.  Dang.  I’m really going to miss “sampling” the holiday treats we will create over the next couple of weeks.

So, in conclusion, migraines are lousy to deal with, are difficult – but not entirely impossible – to avoid, and require a commitment of time and effort in order to reduce their frequency of occurrence.  However, research continues to provide new options for both eliminating attacks as well as treating the symptoms when they do occur.  Hopefully new breakthroughs will help doctors provide even better guidance for their patients who suffer from these attacks, enabling us to live a more pain-free life.

How about you?  Do you suffer from migraines? What types of treatments do you follow? And, do you have any good sugar-free dessert recipes you would like to share with me?

6 comments:

  1. I have textbook migraines. Aura. Blind spot. Nausea. Numbness in my fingers. Blinding headache. They were worse when I was in my 20s and 30s (with my first one, I thought I was having a stroke). Nowadays, when I get that blind spot, I take 4-6 ibuprofen with a diet coke and lie down in a dark room with my eyes closed until the blind spot goes away. The headaches are more tolerable then, and are usually gone within 24-36 hours. Unfortunately, Emma occasionally gets them, too. And she always throws up with hers. And I've always read that red wine is a big culprit, Dawn....

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    1. On the few occasions that I get the aura, it is actually good because I can take some ibuprofen and get rid of the migraine before it even hits. And while I did get my first migraine when I was 9, at least they didn't really start becoming an issue until I was in my 20's. They say they will get better with age, so I guess there's that to look forward to. And, I know about the red wine, I've changed up my dietary habits concerning that, too....

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  2. Yes, I do get migraines - usually two a month. Last week I took some new medicine. It helped but prolonged it to more than seven days and made me very sleepy. I did have an excess of sugar that week - maybe that's my issue too.

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    1. Oh, Tonja, a 7 day migraine?? That would pretty much do me in! I hope you find something that works - and cutting out sugar is not easy to do, but I think it is definitely worth it. I am going back to being very diligent on that one. My doctor also has me taking Lisiniprol as a prophylactic measure. I think it helps - but, alas, it doesn't keep them away completely.

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  3. It is really hard to avoid sugar. Most breakfast cereal, except plain oatmeal, have sugar in it. Best of Luck.

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    1. Yes, Mary, it is not easy to do AT ALL! But, one thing I found is that when I stop eating sweets I no longer crave them (oh, and I also lost 5 lbs when I started doing this, so there's that). The problem is, once I cut it out of my diet, I really can't eat it ever because that is what I think triggers the migraines. But, the good news is that I don't necessarily miss it and even Richardson's has sugar-free options now!

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