Chronic Migraine Survival Kit

Chronic Migraine Survival Kit

Chronic Migraine Survival Kit

What is Chronic Migraine?

Chronic Migraine is where you suffer from more than 15 headaches a month with at least 8 of these being classed as migraines. A migraine is generally a severe, one-sided headache which may be accompanied by visual and neurological symptoms and in some cases nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

A migraine is just a headache, right?!

Wrong! Migraines are very debilitating as sufferers don’t just suffer from the migraine itself. It can take several days to recover from a migraine. 

 

 

There are Four Distinct Phases of Migraine

Migraine comes in four distinct phases with the Prodrome or build up where the body gathers energy to have a migraine. During this stage, patients may feel very hungry, thirsty or tired or may start craving certain foods. There may be some foggy-headedness, irritability or minor loss of speech and concentration.

This is often followed by the Aura (although not everyone has an aura) Aura is where you get the visual disturbances with flashing lights, zig zagging, blurred or double vision. The limbs may go numb or start to tingle or loose sensation.

 

The main attack is where the intense, throbbing pain kicks in, you may feel or be sick, feel depressed or have difficulty sleeping. At this stage chances are you’ll just want to sleep in a darkened room. This stage can last from 3 or 4 hours to a couple of days.

After the migraine follows the postdrome or migraine hangover. This can leave you feeling rubbish for a day or two whilst your body recovers. During this time it is important to get plenty of rest, eat a light diet and to stay hydrated, avoiding caffeine if at all possible. (Though some patients find that drinking caffeine is actually helpful, so see which way works best for you!)

People to contact if you’re having chronic migraines

Your GP

It is worth speaking to your GP as they will be able to potentially prescribe you with some preventative medication to stop you from having migraines so frequently or offer you some medication to take during an attack (or in some cases both!)

They may need to adjust any contraceptive pills you may be taking or prescribe a different form of contraception, as some brands of the contraceptive pill can exacerbate migraines.

They may also take a blood test to rule out vitamin/mineral deficiencies as some of those can make migraines more prolific. You may be referred to the headache clinic or Neurology if your condition is severe and not responding to the usual treatment.

Your Optician

Especially if you are having any problems focusing or are spending a lot of your time at your computer every day. Having your eyes tested can help ensure you’re wearing the right prescription glasses and often can run tests to ensure that your eyes are looking healthy with no sign of papillodema.

If you spend a lot of time at your desk you might be able to get a pair of mid-distance glasses for working at the computer. 

Your Dentist

 Especially if you’re stressed, tend to grind your teeth in bed, or have noticed tension in your face. Sometimes migraines can be connected to a face/jaw problem. They should be able to check for any problems with your jaws and teeth and put your mind at rest.

An Acupuncturist/Osteopath/Reflexologist

All of the above mentioned therapies are great for helping with migraines in their individual ways. Acupuncture involves carefully placed, small needles which suprisingly aren’t painful at all, which helps release energy blockages and has a good reputation for relieving migraine.

An osteopath can gently tweak your body, spine and bones back into alignment and is very good if you’ve got lots of tension in your neck and shoulders or spine.

A reflexologist can help you relax, unwind, release stress and tension by massaging and pressing on specific parts of the feet or face. The aim of reflexology is to bring the whole body back into balance. It can work more quickly if you have a series of treatments ideally close together over a period of 6-8 weeks in the first instance followed by maintenance appointments every 2-4 weeks.

Health Plans

Some health plans include acupuncture or reflexology so if you are with a health insurance plan, check it out.

 Your Employer

If you are employed it would be worth speaking to your employer about your migraines so that they can work with you to make your working environment as migraine friendly as possible.

This might involve you having regular breaks away from screens, having regular meal times and breaks, having furniture at a good height to reduce tension on your neck and shoulders.

If you have severe migraines like hemiplegic migraines it would be helpful for them to have a medical plan in place for you so they know what to look out for and what to do should it happen. Hemiplegic migraines often mimic strokes (and hard to differentiate between the two).

 

Products that might help with Chronic Migraine

 

White Tiger Balm Ointment

Especially designed for headaches and migraine. Very powerful stuff but make sure you wash your hands carefully after applying it. Available from supermarkets, pharmacies and big online retailers.

Cooling Sports Towel

A cooling sports towel, dipped in very cold water and then squeezed out before applying to the neck or head.

Sunglasses

Sunglasses/ UV reactive lenses if you wear glasses

Cooling Pillow Mat Inserts

Having a cool pillow can help. Look at online retailers to find a cooling pillow mat insert

Orthopedic Pillow 

Helps relieve pressure on spine

Wheat pack

Can generally be microwaved to help warm the neck/shoulder muscles if needed. (Check manufacturers label before microwaving)

Gel eye masks

Can often be used warm or cold to ease sensitivity on the eyes. 

Orange Filter for computer and phones

Look in your phone/computer settings for a nightshift filter or eye comfort filter.

Roll-on headache Balms

 These use aromatherapy to help reduce headaches. 

HeaderTerm

A tens machine that’s like a headband, especially designed for migraines and headache relief. See Amazon and other online retailers for more information

A heavy blanket

You can get special weighted blanket (with an equally hefty price tag) but often just having a good old fashioned heavy blanket can make all the difference

Google ‘Migraine Relief Products’

Check out big online retailers for ‘migraine relief’ products. Do NOT buy medication online unless from a reputable retailer like Boots or Superdrug etc

Migraine – What it is and what you can do about it

Migraine – What it is and what you can do about it

Migraine – What it is and what you can do about it

What is Migraine?

Migraine is generally a severe, one-sided headache, which may be accompanied by visual disturbances, neurological symptoms and/or nausea and vomiting. Visual disturbances can include flashing lights, zig-zagging, double vision, blind spots and blurring.

Neurological symptoms can include tingling in the limbs, pins and needles, facial numbness, loss of sensation or numbness in the arms and legs, confusion, dizziness and loss of speech.

Some patients get ‘just’ the headache and others get some of the other symptoms and this may vary from attack to attack.

It is also possible to have a silent migraine where you get the other symptoms without the headache.

Children can get a stomach migraine which makes them vomit rather than necessarily having a headache.

It is thought to affect around 6 million people in the UK  with 190,000 people having a migraine on any given day. So if you suffer with migraines, you’re not alone.

 

What causes migraine?

Whilst the causes of migraine are not yet fully understood it is widely thought that it may be linked to abnormal activity in the brain which in turn has an effect on the way the brain functions. Certain types of migraine (for example Hemiplegic migraine) may be hereditary and due to a genetic factor. 

There are a range of well-known triggers which seem to either spark off a migraine or to exacerbate them. Everyone is different so it’s useful to isolate what is likely to trigger yours and to avoid that as much as possible.

Keep Track

Keep a note of what you eat, how you feel, what you drink, your stress levels and where you are in your cycle if that applies to you and see if a pattern builds.

Apps like Migraine Buddy are useful to help you keep track of your migraines.

Migraine Triggers

Migraines can be triggered by a range of stimuli including:

  • Skipping meals or eating in a rush,
  • Being dehydrated,
  • Drinking alcohol especially red wine and darker spirits
  • Eating certain foods including cheese, tomatoes, chocolate, citrus fruits
  • Additives in diet, slimline and processed foods such as artificial sweeteners,nitrates, MSG and preservatives
  • Drinking caffeine
  • Hunger/Thirst
  • Stress at home, school, university or work
  • Weather and environmental factors (such as thundery weather or a high pollen count)
  • Hormones
  • Working environment, especially when sitting in the same position all day
  • Lack of or too much sleep!
  • Strong perfumes
  • Strong sunlight/bright lights/loud noises
  • Tension in the neck and shoulders
  • Some medications/contraceptive pills
  • Overusing painkillers. Having too many headache tablets can give you a rebound headache!

 

Hormonal Migraines

There may be a hormonal element to migraines in women. Some women note that they have migraines during the 2-3 days in the run up to their period and in the first 3 days of their period. It is thought that a drop in oestrogen levels can contribute to headaches.  A period tracking app like Clue may also be useful.

Pregnancy can also have an effect on migraines although this does vary from person to person.

Whilst migraines are fairly common in pregnancy, if you do suddenly get a severe headache after 20+ weeks (especially from week 24 onwards) which is accompanied by visual problems, pain in the rib cage, vomiting, fluid retention or sudden swelling in your hands, feet or face, contact your Midwife or 111 urgently.

The perimenopause, menopause and HRT medication can all exacerbate migraines in some women.

 

How to manage a migraine

For occasional migraines the best solution would be to take a couple of over the counter painkillers, having a drink and a snack and going to bed in a darkened room until it passes.

If you feel nauseous you can buy anti-sickness tablets from your local pharmacy. There are also special migraine relief tablets that have an anti-sickness medication built-in.

Double check that you’re having the correct amount of paracetamol in total as many of them already contain paracetamol so DON’T take them with paracetamol! If  you’re in any doubt ask your pharmacist for advice.

Having an ice-pack might help (if carefully wrapped in a tea-towel)

Try to stay hydrated and if you feel up to it, having regular snacks or small meals. Sipping drinks can be kinder to the stomach than gulping them down.

 

 When to get help from your GP

If you find that you’re having more than 5-8 migraines a month speak to your GP who may be able to prescribe a preventative medication or take a blood sample as sometimes migraines can be linked to a deficiency of a vitamin or mineral.

There are also medications (often triptans) you can be prescribed to stave off an attack as soon as it happens, including injections and nasal sprays.

If you have migraines a lot and other things haven’t worked, you might be referred to a specialist Headache nurse or to the Neurology department for further tests and treatment if necessary. 

What else can help?

Reducing Stress

As migraines are often triggered or exacerbated by stress it is important to be as stress-free as possible.

Finding ways of releasing stress and tension are very helpful in preventing or minimising migraines. Think of any areas of your life that might be particularly stressful.

Is there anything you can do to make them less stressful? Any meetings you don’t need to attend?

Children’s activities that they no longer enjoy? Feel free to say no to anything you find stressful if you’re not contracted to be there!

Set up new systems

Sometimes setting up a new system can reduce stress right down. Like having something in the slow cooker ready for when you get back from football practise rather than having to start cooking from scratch when you’re tired and hungry. Or laying out clothes the night before. 

Take time out. Do some exercise. Enjoy your hobbies

Taking a little time out for yourself can be really powerful.

Gentle exercise such as walking, swimming or yoga can be useful as can mindfulness classes. Or ensuring you take part in hobbies that you love. 

Have Reflexology/ Massages / Acupuncture

Having a regular reflexology treatment or massage can be helpful as it helps to balance the body and to relieve stress and tension and to allows you to have some time to yourself.

Reflexology uses a firm but gentle pressure on specific points on the foot or face which is combined with massage techniques and holding specific points and is usually deeply relaxing and nurturing.

Acupuncture is also thought to be effective for managing migraines. This involves having tiny needles inserted into different areas of your body (and surprisingly doesn’t hurt!)

The key is to have a series of regular treatments over a period of about 6-8 weeks for best effect.

If you have health insurance cover double check to see if this is covered in your policy as some do cover things like Reflexology or Acupuncture.

 

Additional Resources

Like this Post? Please share with your friends 

Read my Chronic Migraine Survival Tool Kit blog post

Follow the hashtags #migraineawarenessweek and #letsbeatmigraine 

 

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Over to you!

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below

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Managing Migraine the natural way

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It is thought that 6 million people in the UK suffer from migraines, which means that 190,000 people a day are having migraines.

What causes Migraines?

No one is very sure what actually causes migraines, although it is thought that they can be brought on by stress, dehydration, lacking food, eating trigger foods and drinks, strong perfumes, loud noises, hormonal imbalances, tiredness and bright lights.

 You can find a full list of known potential migraine triggers by clicking here

Migraines can be exacerbated by stress, so managing stress is key to reducing migraines.

Think about what causes you the most stress in your life? Is it not being able to find things on a morning? Or not having time to prepare and eat regular, healthy meals? Or feeling tired and dehydrated by not being able to drink enough liquid throught the day? Or is it something at work or at home that gets your blood boiling? Is there something quick, easy and affordable that you can do about this? 

If you can find a way to remove some of the stress, you might find your migraines melt away (or at least don’t happen quite as often!) 

This might include getting everything you need ready the night before so you have a stress-free morning, or doing an online food shop for the week so you have meals and healthy snacks to hand. It could mean taking a water bottle with you wherever you go so you don’t get dehydrated. Or putting dinner in the slow cooker before you go to work so you have something quick and easy for dinner when you get back. 

Self-Care : You matter

Create a tool kit of ways to look after yourself, allotting time each day to do things that you love doing to replenish yourself. You cannot keep giving without replenishing your own personal stock. 

So pick something you enjoy and do it as often as you can. If necessary, put it in the diary as an appointment and guard it with your life! Time for self-care is as important as everything else you have in your diary or on your to-do list! 

  • Use a relaxation app like Headspace or Calm or listen to Yoga Nidra or guided meditations.
  • Keep in a loose routine, going to bed and getting up at similar times each day even at weekends
  • Eating good quality, nutrient-rich food is also essential as is eating regular meals
  • Take regular light exercise preferably in the fresh air. Walking is good, as is running, horse riding and golf.
  • Meet up with friends regularly and have a good support network in place
  • Have a regular massage or reflexology treatment and book your next one into the diary so it’s there for you to look forward to. Having a course of massages or reflexology treatments can help migraines, especially as they help to relax you, to release the tension in your muscles and improve sleep patterns.

If you like this post you might like to read my other posts on migraines

https://www.sarahcooper.co.uk/migraine-what-it-is-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/

https://www.sarahcooper.co.uk/chronic-migraine-survival-kit/

Other useful resources for migraines include

https://www.migrainetrust.org/

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