Migraines. Most people do not understand them at all. If you suffer from chronic migraines, we are sure you have heard it all. “Oh yeah, my head hurts some days, too” “Why don’t you just take an Advil?” “It hurts again? You should see a doctor” “Have you tried.. not focusing on it? You are probably thinking about it too much” And the list goes on…
Our advice is — just ignore them. They really think they are helping even though they don’t understand. But, we understand. There are so many factors when it comes to this illness that they even vary from person to person. Some may find relief with an ice pack, while the next person needs a warm compress. If those two switched their relief choices, they would be in even more pain.
Christy, one of the co-founders of Chronic Illness Entrepreneur, personally suffers from migraines. She has some great tips for you in this article that she’s used to help relieve her own migraines!
Suffering from any chronic illness, including migraines, means that you will be on a journey of trial and error. This migraine relief guide is meant to help you find some comfort by giving you plenty of choices to try out. As with any alterations to your lifestyle with a chronic illness, track anything you try in either a journal or even an app. (Christy personally loves personally love Migraine Buddy.)
(Also, we suggest not trying to read this whole blog post if you have any level of a migraine, because, it’s very long! Take it in pieces if you have to, we won’t be offended. We packed it full of information.)
First of all — you are not alone. Although, it may feel like you are the only one who knows what you are going through during the helpless phase of a migraine, know that this chronic illness is the third most common disease in the world, with an estimated global prevalence of 14.7% (which is around 1 in 7 people). More facts here.
We are not here to throw a bunch of facts at you that you already know. But if you have any friends or family who do not understand your pain, we suggest sharing the following articles with them so they can at least have a small idea of what you’re going through:
- 10 Surprising Facts About Migraines You Probably Didn’t Know
- 7 Myths And Facts About Migraines
- Facts And Figures Key: Facts And Figures About Migraine
If you can get your immediate circle to understand this illness, it will help avoid or lessen the inevitable feeling of being judged. Because we all feel that way at one point or another, even though none of this is our “fault.”
Before we continue, just a blurb of a disclaimer:
Here at Chronic Illness Entrepreneur, we are not doctors or medical professionals. We do not provide medical advice. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.
FDA Disclaimer: The advice & statements on this blog have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Any information on this blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. You can read more about on our Disclaimer page.
Types of Migraines, Headache, and Triggers:
There is not just one type of a migraine or even one type of a headache. Some suffer for a few hours, some suffer for months. Putting aside time frame, there are a few different types that someone can have. A person can experience only one type or all types. This list is definitely not an exhaustive list, as the terms “headache” or “migraine” encompass multiple related disorders.
Cluster: These affect more men than women, and are considered rare. The person can go months without any head pain then hit with a wave of non-stop pain for weeks, every single day.
Sinus: These types are commonly misdiagnosed as a simple headache. Most sinus related head pain is actually, in fact, a migraine. But for those true sinus headaches, that may accompany other issues such sinus infection or allergies, it may just be in fact a sinus headache.
Tension: Typically appears without warning and brought on by physiological stress such as injury, fatigue, anxiety or bad posture. These types may find relief with massage, foot soaks, icing, or an OTC anti-inflammatory or pain reliever.
Rebound: Also called “MOH” or medication overuse headache, these are probably, in my opinion, the most annoying type of headache. You are in pain, you take pain meds, get stuck in a cycle of taking the pain meds. These types do get confused with or blend into your migraines. A good rule of thumb is to try (We know! It’s difficult) to stay under two times a week of using any pain meds or triptans.
Caffeine Withdrawal: For Christy, this runs a close second to the annoyance of a rebound. Your body will start craving caffeine about 24 hours after you last had any, triggering a headache. So, you drink more… And restart the cycle. If you are trying to give up caffeine (Christy has done it a few times, and the clarity is amazing), she doesn’t suggest dropping quickly, wean yourself off. Various methods include simply downsizing over a certain period of time or filling the void with decaf. We hear good things of Swiss Water Process Coffee Beans. If you are not able to give up caffeine, for whatever reason, be sure to either have access to either a pain reliever with caffeine or some caffeinated drink to get through your day.
Chronic Migraines: If you suffer from 15 or more migraines a month, you fall into this category.
Episodic: These happen once in awhile, and several weeks or months can go by without a migraine.
Ocular: As what the word alludes to, this type can affect your vision, typically in one eye, without a headache.
Abdominal: Typically occurs in infants, toddlers, children, and teens. Occurs in the middle of the body, near the navel and not confined to one spot and usually without head pain.
Vestibular: Vertigo is the main issue with a vestibular migraine. You could either be standing still, or be laying down, and the world around you feels like it’s moving. Alternatively, you can feel like you are moving, when you are not. Sudden changes in head position can make this worse.
- Classic: You will see the term “classic migraine” quite frequently if you go to a doctor or an ER. In our experience, that is what they choose to put on the paperwork. This migraine typically occurs with an aura.
Menstrual/Hormonal: Because of the drastic changes in estrogen surrounding a woman’s menstrual cycle, often migraine attacks occur in days before or the early part of the menstrual cycle. They typically last longer, are more severe, and are more often accompanied by nausea and vomiting than other types of migraines
- Stress or tension
- Sleep Irregularity
- Foods (varies from person to person)
- Hunger/Low Blood Sugar
- Alcohol (wine, mostly)
- Strong odors (perfume, cleaning products, air fresheners)
- Barometric changes (weather)
- Fluorescent Light
- Loud Noises
- Dental Issues
The list can go on.
Stages of a Migraine
Migraines tend to progress through 4 stages. Many people don’t have all stages, and stages may differ from one person to the next, or even from one migraine to the next.
- Prodrome: A few hours to a day or so before the head pain, you may feel tired, uneasy, or moody. You may also feel bloated or crave certain foods.
- Aura: Up to an hour before pain starts, some migraine sufferers experience aura — flashing lights, blind spots, other vision problems, confusion, difficulty speaking, or other neurologic symptoms.
- Headache: Moderate to severe pain affects one side of the head and then can spread to both sides, often along with nausea. You may be highly sensitive to light, sound, and odors. Vomiting or diarrhea may also occur. This stage lasts 4 to 72 hours.
- Postdrome: After your headache ends, you may feel tired, achy, and “washed out.” This may last for a day or so. Many people refer to this as “hangover headache” (essentially what some people feel after a night of drinking, but you did not drink a drop!)
The Ultimate Migraine Relief Guide that will Soothe Painful Headaches
And now, for the good stuff! When trying out ways to soothe or prevent your migraine, track everything you do, so you know what works for you and what doesn’t.
Although everyone may be on their own diet journey, it’s a good idea to find out what works for you, based on your allergies, triggers, and personal lifestyle. There are many food-based books out there that claim to help through diet. Depending on your personal life choices, the following books may benefit you:
- Migraine Miracle Diet: Sugar-Free/Gluten-Free basis with some meal recipe ideas and a 21-day plan.
- Heal Your Headache: The “1-2-3 Program” all about avoiding quick fixes, reducing your triggers and raising your threshold to those triggers.
- Foods that Fight Pain: This plant-based book is for multiple types of chronic illnesses, but there is a whole section discussing migraines.
Ice vs. Heat
In many guides, you may find that they suggest icing either your head, neck, or back. Sometimes that can work really well, but other times, you may just not be able to stand any temperature changes. And that is completely fine! You don’t need to use ice if you don’t want to.
But what if you like heat? We suggest getting a pack for your migraine relief guide that lets you do either of the temperature extremes. Right now, Christy is loving this pack, since it has a strap, and you can either have it cold or hot depending on what your body is wanting during a migraine. You can use the straps to help keep it around your head, your neck, your back, or pretty much anywhere you think it would help or where you think the trigger is coming from. Some people like pressure during a migraine, but if you are not one of those people, we would suggest keeping it as loose as possible.
For some who are sensitive to odor, these methods may not work for you. But Christy has found that even though she is sensitive to some smells, she loves all the herbal methods she has tried. There are balms, roll-ons, or essential oil sprays, and all are generally based on peppermint and lavender (or similar types of oils).
Peppermint helps with tension as well as nausea, while lavender helps with calming the body and lowering stress (it can also help with sinus headaches/migraines as lavender can help ward off allergy issues). If you are having a migraine that is also affecting your stomach, try putting some not only on your head and neck, but also on your stomach or lower back (and lay down!).
Pro Tip: Carry peppermint-based lip balm in your purse and use it when you are out and away from your relief methods. Just rub some right on your temples…it helps a bit!
Acupressure, TENS Unit, Acupuncture, and Chiropractic Adjustments
Before we start talking about chiropractic or acupuncture methods, let’s ease into the idea, since I know some of you are terrified of getting an adjustment or having needles in you. The best way is to first start with acupressure, trigger point therapy, and electronic pulse stimulation.
Acupressure on the go! We would definitely recommend the NoMo Migraine Wristband to help with a migraine that causes nausea, or even motion sickness (for me, motion sickness that doesn’t let up, will trigger a migraine). Just keep in mind, although the acupressure effects won’t wear off over time, the longer you have this wristband exposed to air, the aromatherapy effects will decrease. So, make sure to keep it in the bag when you do not actively need it.
For massage, releasing tension, and trigger point therapy, the Back Buddy really is my best friend. Christy literally uses it every night to wind down for the day. And, on days where her neck is particularly a problem, she holds the little knobs a few seconds in different parts of her neck to break up the tension. It is pretty amazing to use for the bottom of your feet too!
(For more information on trigger points and migraines, The Trigger Point & Referred Pain Guide: Headaches or Migraines)
Speaking about releasing muscle tension, another must-have device for your migraine relief guide is a TENS Unit. It is the same type of device used at a Chiropractic or a Physical Therapist’s office. However, those have the ability to run on a stronger setting, so they are not exactly alike, but it typically does the job just fine.
Are you getting warmed up to the idea of needles yet? No? Alright, let’s start with Chiropractic Adjustments.
A quality chiropractor knows about migraines, and they know that our body itself can trigger migraines. They will do a scan or some sort of review of your body, your back, your posture, and see what might be possible triggers for you. For me, it could be my hips are unaligned (scoliosis, different subject) and my neck is out of whack (mostly past injury) but if either of those is causing me pain..bam, migraine. Christy’s chiropractor keeps her as loose as possible, follows up with a TENs unit, and tells her to ice at home. She has even gone to the chiropractor during a migraine, and she’d say 75% of the time, it helps. It may not stop a migraine, but you may feel more in control if it does offer some relief for you.
Alright, needle time! Acupuncture can be nerve-wracking, We know. Trust me, we know. But the first time Christy finally did it, guess what happened? She fell asleep. She is not the type to fall asleep anywhere, mostly due to trust issues, so knocking right out, in a full restful nap, was quite amazing for her! However, falling asleep can be location specific depending on the lighting and the sounds. Some places will dim the lights and play soft music. If you need it dark or silent, ask if you can bring an eye mask or earplugs.
The needles are very small, so you barely feel them after they are in, and it’s a quick action to place them. If any of the needles start hurting you, give you a burning sensation or anything of the sort, ask them to take it out. Some acupuncturists may say that that is sometimes the body’s way of saying “hey, I don’t like this,” so it’s not needed for the treatment.
Acupuncture, like chiropractic care, is not super focused on one area, instead it is normally a whole-body approach. So, don’t worry, just because you suffer from migraines doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get needles put into your head or face. The needles Christy had for her treatments were primarily in the hands and feet.
You can also ask for “seeds,” which are tiny little balls that are placed on pressure points. Christy had some placed in her ear so she can press/hold when her head hurt – her mom has had them as well! It does give some relief. You can definitely buy them online, but we recommend finding a professional to help place them on the correct trigger points. Trying to place them yourself by feeling or with a mirror can be…well, tricky.
In regards to either a chiropractor or an acupuncturist, ask plenty of questions before they touch you. Make sure they have a good understanding that migraines are not just simple head pain. If they talk down migraines or make you feel uncomfortable, find another health professional. It’s your money, time, and body — you are in control of those decisions!
You will probably find that preventatives work different for everyone, but here are some standard recommendations for inclusion in your migraine relief guide.
- Those who suffer from various types of migraines have low levels of Magnesium. This nutrient is important for cerebrovascular health. Recommended daily dosages of magnesium typically range from 200 to 600 mg. If you drink caffeinated beverages (Hi, that’s me!), you typically need more as this also contributes to deficiency. Side note: removing caffeine and it’s correlation to magnesium levels may help you alone, as you body won’t be fighting the caffeine.
- Riboflavin is necessary for growth and for the production of red blood cells. B2 also plays an important role in how our bodies get energy from what we eat. Studies how found that migraine suffers are also low in this vitamin. Recommended daily dosages of Riboflavin is typically around 400 mg.
- This flower is commonly used as a preventative for migraines, but also aids in a few other illnesses or sickness such as fever, arthritis, irregular menstrual cycles, etc. Recommended daily dosages of Feverfew is typically around 100 mg.
Wait…do you hate a million pills? Because we sure do!
You very well could search for purely OTC versions of all of the above but you would probably be taking anywhere from 10 to 4 pills and that can be rather large. You could also ask your neurologist to get them from a pharmacy but the same issue happens, too many pills..or annoying to swallow pills.
Christy personally takes (and approved by my neurologist) MigreLief™ which is only 2 very easy to swallow pills. It contains 360mg of Magnesium, 400mg of Riboflavin and 100mg Feverfew. And as a bonus, this supplement is free of all the nasty allergens that may be triggers for some people (which, if you have any experience looking for OTC pills, you know the struggle!). MigreLief™ is free of yeast, milk, corn, wheat, gluten, soy, sodium, salt, sugar, flavorings, preservatives, artificial colors.
Continuing on the list:
- Sleep…oh sleep. We struggle with it all the time. But when we are being good about taking my melatonin, we do pretty well. Now we are not saying it’s a sleeping pill, because, for us, it definitely is not. But, when you have the correct levels (or near correct), this hormone helps regulate sleep-wake cycles. We suggest using this only if you have trouble sleeping, and probably have the need for this. Sleeping too much is also a known trigger. There are dissolvable ones but either they have additives we don’t like or hate the taste.
- Similar to B2, CoQ10 is needed for cell energy. It is also in a lot of trials showing that it helps in prevention of migraines. There are pills everywhere, but from what I understand (between reading quite a bit, and talking to my neuro) liquid is the most effective way to take this supplement. One of the most recommended ones is Qunol Liquid 100mg CoQ10. However, it does contain soy. If that is a trigger for you, we suggest you find another one. But it tastes amazing! Especially right out of the fridge. Putting it in the refrigerator is not necessary but it is refreshing.
- This is not a vitamin (it’s actually a hormone) that most people talk about when discussing migraine preventatives. However, there are plenty of studies showing a link to migraines and chronic headaches. In general, no matter who you are we always suggest getting a vitamin D test, most people are deficient. But, back to migraines, even if the deficiency may not be causing your migraines, your migraines may be causing a deficiency. How? Well, some of us photosensitive suffers avoid sunlight as much as possible. So, top up your levels. This is another one we suggest in liquid because it is more effectively absorbed into your body. Garden of Life D3 Vitamin is free of just about most triggers but does contain stevia which some people may have an issue with. It also tastes horrible (in Christy’s opinion) but it has done wonders for her far more than any prescription level pills.
- Being deficient in B12 can wreck havoc on your entire system, and can trigger migraines as well. Before you supplement with B12, get a blood test. There are some cases that you may need to be giving an injection of B12 (or even a few), and once you are near normal levels and the medical professional feels you can use OTC supplements, you can either take a sublingual or a liquid. In most places you will read that pill is not effective as the B12 needs to pass through the brain blood barrier. If your digestion is not optimal, any pill form B12 you take may just be wasted. Christy personally takes another Garden of Life Product, their B12 Vitamin spray. Now, she doesn’t use it daily, probably once a week. She also gets injections at my chiropractor at least twice a year. She only suggests this if you have a good handle of you levels, as she do blood work every 6 months.
Christy’s Migraine “Recipe”
So… you may be wondering. What does Christy do when she has a migraine?
Her? Oh, She pulls my hair out. Ok, not really… but hair pulling does oddly help some people, including her, now and then.
Please note that we cannot suggest prescription medication as we don’t know your medical history, this is her own method that’s kind of like her personal migraine relief guide.
If she has what she would consider a typical migraine (for herself), it looks like the following:
- Take abortive medication ASAP
- Zomig Spray
- Naproxen OR Midol, whatever she feels inclined to.
- Foot soak with Epsom Salts, if she can sit up
- Favorite is a Eucalyptus one.
- Turn off the lights, ice head, lay down, put in ear plugs
- May massage head or put pressure on head, but sometimes that makes it worse.
- Sometimes laying down hurts a lot more, so she sits up.
- If the abortives don’t help, take rescue meds and try to sleep it off.
- Fioricet or Toradol
- Reglan or Zofran if she is nauseous
If she is out of my house when it hits her, she can take my abortives still, they do not have any properties that affect driving.
It took her a while to get to the combo of everything she has – tools, preventatives, and medication. And her migraines are slowly changing (getting worse) and that is normal for some people as they age. As for true chronic migraines, there is no documented full cure, but there are plenty of ways to lessen either the frequency or pain level to gain more control of your life.
And to end this giant of a list…
just to repeat…
you are not alone.