Over 36 million people in the United States experience migraines. Migraines are a kind of recurring headache. They can cause a throbbing or pulsing pain and are usually on one side of the head. Migraines are a neurological disorder that often occurs with anxiety and mood symptoms. In addition to a headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, sound and order, cognitive difficulties, visual disturbances, and weakness are common symptoms. Migraines are typically treated with medication; however, there are alternative treatments that can relieve migrations quite well.
What Causes Migraines?
Migraines can be triggered by several events, including:
- Loud or screeching noises
- Pulsating or bright lights
- Foul or strong odors
- Hormonal changes such as PMS or menopause
- Changes in sleep
- Caffeine (caffeine can also alleviate migraines)
- Fermented foods
- Certain medications
Understanding what triggers a migraine is helpful to prevent or relieve headaches. Maintaining a journal has helped some people determine their triggers so that they are better able to anticipate and take control of migraine triggers. For example, if stress tends to precipitate migraines, you may benefit from learning how to identify when you are becoming anxious and to engage in stress-relieving exercises.
What are the Symptoms?
There are four phases to a migraine; however, you may not go through every phase.
- Prodome: This phase can start 24 hours prior to a migraine with symptoms such as mood changes, tiredness, lethargy, and increased need to urinate.
- Aura: Not everyone experiences an aura with a migraine. This phase can happen just before a migraine in which you may experience visual, sensory or speech symptoms.
- Headache: This is the phase in which the migraine becomes severe. You may feel a throbbing or pulsating pain on one side of your head. In some cases, you may not experience a headache, but feel nauseous and are sensitive to light, noise and/or smells.
- Postdrome: Once the headache resides, you may feel tired and weak.
Alternative Migraine Treatments
Biofeedback, neurofeedback, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and relaxation techniques are effective alternative treatments to migraines.
- Biofeedback: Specifically, thermal biofeedback has been clinically demonstrated to prevent headaches. In this type of biofeedback, you learn to control your body’s thermal response to stress. In doing so, you can gain voluntary control over your blood vessel reaction, which is associated with stress. Hand warming (autogenic training) is another therapy that produces similar results. Additionally, EMG (electromyogram) monitors muscle feedback so that you can learn to control muscle response. EMG biofeedback has been shown to help migraine sufferers.
- Neurofeedback: Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback in which you learn to self-regulate EEG patterns. To treat migraines, you are trained to produce brain wave patterns that reduce migraines.
- CBT: Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to help individuals by changing the way they think and behave towards migraines. Stress management, challenging beliefs, education about medication management, and relaxation techniques are just some of the topics covered.
Although you may not be able to stop migraines permanently, there are ways that you may be able to prevent them or reduce their severity. As mentioned earlier, understanding what triggers your migraines is very helpful. Below are ways to prevent migraines based on triggers.
- Stress: Relaxation techniques, biofeedback, neurofeedback and CBT.
- Exercise: Try changing the type of exercise you do and when you exercise. You may find that another type of exercise during another time of day reduces migraine occurrence.
- Loud noises: Carry noise-reducing headphones or ear plugs with you. At your place of employment, you may ask for an accommodation to work in a conference room or telecommute from a quieter space.
- Lights: If light is a trigger, try wearing sunglasses during the day. You may want to install light reducing shades in your environment. Also, reduce screen time on computers, televisions and cell phones. This blue light can cause a headache to occur.
- Odors: If a certain odor bothers you, try smelling coffee beans or mint to block the smell.
- Hormonal changes: Talk to your doctor about hormone therapy.
- Changes in sleep: Practice good sleep hygiene and stick to a schedule that works for you. You may need to adjust your work and life schedule; however, sleep is essential for healthy living and migraine prevention. Additionally, if you experience sleep apnea or jaw clenching, talk to your dentist or neurologist about how this might affect your headaches.
- Foods: Feel free to ask waitstaff to avoid foods that can trigger a migraine.
- Certain medications: talk to your prescriber about trying alternative medications that have less chance of inducing a migraine.
When you get a migraine, there are some simple ways that you can dull your headache.
- Find a quiet and dark room to sit. Close your eyes and rest. Try taking some deep breaths (breath in 5 seconds and out 5 seconds). If you find this too distracting, just let your body breath naturally.
- Either warm or cold compresses on your head can relieve headache pain.
- Aromatherapy can dull a headache. You may need to experiment with different scents to find one that appeals to you.
If you are interested in the alternative treatments mentioned, Dr. Mazzei works with migraine sufferers. She will first meet with you to understand your specific situation and then determine which therapy might work best for you. In addition to biofeedback, neurofeedback, and CBT, she will work with you to make meaningful lifestyle changes. Please call our office at (480) 448-6755 to schedule an initial consultation.