So I’d thought I’d write a little something about how to deal with the horrible thing that is migraine in the hope that it might help a few of you guys out there. Obviously, I’m not a doctor or a health professional, this is just my own experience.
I’ve been suffering from migraines for the last ten years now, getting at least one a week. It’s a big reason why I changed my lifestyle and became a freelance journalist so that I could take some of the pressure off if I did have an attack. Some of them have been so bad that I haven’t been able to get out of bed for five days, in unbearable pain unable to deal with bright light or noise, half of my face goes completely numb, I find it hard to speak and I can’t stomach anything but plain bread.
It’s a very bizarre condition to have because scientists are still trying to get to the root cause. You go to the doctor and feel like a guinea pig, trying drug after drug in the hope that one might make a difference and you can be ‘normal’ again. Some, like epilepsy meds, have horrible side effects such as hair thinning and severe weight loss. It can feel massively depressing if I’m being totally honest with you.
The good news is there are ways to manage it. Many of the methods I have found have come through visiting various specialists over the years, particularly the wonderful people at the National Migraine Centre. But the key thing is to listen to your body as we are all different.
- First things first, do everything you can to gain a sense of control over the condition. Track your migraines on an app such as MigraineBuddy. Write down everything you eat and drink in a food diary for four weeks and see if you can find any triggers. Mine are tomatoes, cheddar cheese, red wine and spicy foods. For women, attacks can often be linked to hormonal changes so keep an eye on this too. Recently I’ve been following a low histamine diet (limiting high histamine foods such as salmon, dried fruit, dairy, avocado (sob) and loads of other yummy things) which has reduced my migraine attacks significantly. The science behind it is fascinating and something I’m writing about at the moment (will share here soon).
- Eat regularly and try not to get too hungry as this is a very common trigger. Carry healthy snacks with you such as carrots, apples, peanut butter sachets or protein shakes.
- Get into a routine with your sleeping patterns and try and get up at the same time every day – if you have migraine your brain likes routine more than ‘normal’ brains! And yes that means on a Sunday too.
- If you do moderate to intense exercise, drink a bottle of water with a teaspoon of sugar in it to stop any blood sugar crashes. I had a huge problem with exercise-induced migraine before I did this – I can actually go to the gym now without worrying about my head, yay.
- Speak to your friends and family about how you’re feeling. Sometimes after a migraine your mood can be very low for a few days afterwards. Physically you feel exhausted as your muscles are heavy and achy and just walking up the stairs feels so hard – let them know so they can be more understanding. They have literally no idea how rubbish it feels so talk to them and explain, don’t shut yourself away.
- Be prepared. Always have enough medication on hand in case you have an attack. There is nothing worse than having to venture to the doctors when you have a migraine and you can barely string a sentence together and feel like death warmed up.
- Speak to a doctor about the drug group triptans. These work differently to painkillers (they target the blood vessels and help release the pressure in your head) and work wonders for me. There are several types so it’s worth seeing which one suits you best. I take a triptan at the first sign of a migraine.
- Be aware of medication overuse headache. On several occasions I’ve been in a migraine hellhole for days, taking pill after pill and the bloody thing keeps coming back. The reason is usually medication overuse headache, where you’ve taken too many pills and need to detox from any tablets for 24 hours to get rid of a migraine. At the time it’s the last thing you want to do but it’s the only way.
- Things which help me during a migraine attack: lots of sleep in a dark room, gel eye masks (wonderfully cooling on the eyes and help to block out the light), tiger balm on the temples helps to alleviate the pain, head and neck messages, sugary drinks (don’t forget to drink lots of water too), and finally a hot water bottle on the bottom of your neck can help to alleviate the pressure build up.
I hope this helps and keep your chin up!
For further info and fact sheets, I find this page really useful.