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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

The Migraine Mystery

The Migraine Mystery

If you suffer from migraines, you might think you would already be well aware of the fact. After all, unlike many of the under- or misdiagnosed ailments cropping up in the news today, migraines are a well-known phenomenon. Interestingly, though, some estimates suggest that as many as half of all migraine sufferers mistakenly think of their condition as “just a headache.”

Around 17% of Americans experience a migraine at some point during their lives, while about 13% report having had one or more migraines in the last three months.

A migraine is defined as a severe, throbbing headache, often in conjunction with other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light. In some cases, pain is felt only on one side of the head. Often, a migraine sufferer will experience a visual disturbance, referred to as an “aura,” before the onset of the headache. Auras serve as a warning sign that a migraine is on the way, and may present as blurred vision, seeing stars, or tunnel vision, among other possibilities.

The vast majority of migraine sufferers — more than two thirds, in fact – are women, and the condition often runs in families.

The root cause of a migraine is chemical changes in the brain that affect blood flow in and around the brain. Though researchers have been studying migraines for years, and a number of triggers have been identified, no one knows exactly why they happen.

Common migraine triggers include: consumption of alcohol, stress, anxiety, perfumes or other fragrances, loud noises, bright lights, smoking, caffeine withdrawal, hormonal changes, loss of sleep, strenuous exercise, and missed meals. Many foods can also trigger migraines. These include, but are not limited to: foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), foods that are high in sodium (pickles, processed foods), foods that contain sulfites, nitrates, or tyramine (red wine, cheese, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, some beans, bacon, hot dogs, salami, cured meats), onions, chocolate, nuts and nut butters, and dairy products.

Over-the-counter medications have a limited impact on migraines, and many people who experience regular migraines opt for a prescription medication. There are a few home remedies that can help to lessen the frequency of migraines, or even soothe them after onset. Here’s a look at some of the most common:

- Drink plenty of water — Dehydration is a major cause of all types of headaches, including migraines. Be sure to stay hydrated, especially in the heat of summer.

- Take fish oil — Fish oil improves circulation, which could potentially reduce the frequency or severity of migraines.

- Try a supplement — Doses of about 400 milligrams per day of magnesium and B2 (Riboflavin) have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines, especially in women.

- Take butterbur — Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) is a member of the daisy family, native to Europe, North America, and Asia. Traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, inflammation, and asthma, researchers have found it to be exceptionally effective at treating migraines. It can be purchased in pill form.

- Have a cup of Joe — Caffeine restricts blood vessels, which, for some people, can help. Be careful, though. Too much caffeine can also cause headaches for some. It’s also easy to become dependent on caffeine and suffer from withdrawal headaches.

- Tie one on — A headband or bandana, that is … Some migraine sufferers find that applying pressure to the head can ease symptoms.

- Rub on some peppermint oil — Similar to sports rubs that soothe painful joints or muscles, peppermint oil can sooth an aching head.

- Eat ginger — If nausea accompanies your migraines, ginger can help. It has long been used to treat upset stomachs and motion sickness.


1 Sandy { 02.19.13 at 10:24 pm }

I found the best thing that works for me when I start seeing the aura is homeopathic h/a pills or migraine pills by Hyland..If I use the headache pills I take 3 under my tongue 1 at a time..within 15 minutes the aura is disappearing & my headache is very minimal.

2 I Wrote This { 08.02.12 at 7:37 pm }

Migraines do NOT always have the headache symptom, unlike what this article stated defines a migraine. This fact can definitely lead to misdiagnosis and people not realizing what they are suffering is a migraine.

Another major reason people don’t realize they get migraines is they think they have a sinus headache. Over 90% of what people think are sinus headaches are actually migraines. You don’t get an actual sinus headache without having a sinus infection, which you would already know about at that point because it would be pretty far along. Filled sinuses and stuffy noses are two of the many symptoms of migraines.

Some migraines can even have stroke-like attributes, including losing the ability to talk and move. Symptoms vary from person to person.

Also not mentioned was that it is a neurological disorder; you don’t get migraines unless you have the disorder. As the article did state, it is genetic.

3 Jane { 05.29.12 at 7:44 pm }

Have had visual migraines for about 20 years, triggered mostly by bright light. Over the counter has helped, but the caffeine additive upsets my stomach. Recently came upon new information that said the “brain freeze” effect (like when you eat ice cream or drink cold liquids too fast) has been found to help those who suffer from migraines. The intense cold on the roof of the mouth seems to be the fix; I tried the theory with ice cubes, held against the roof of the mouth until gone and was thrilled that within 5 minutes, the headache had been reduced to about one twentieth of the severity. I actually took no excedrin or aspirin products and could even fall back to sleep easily.
Has worked a number of times now; best to use the ice cubes or ice pops when you first feel the headache coming on, though have used it with full blown headaches too.

4 Pat Murphy { 05.28.12 at 7:26 pm }

I gave up trying to figure out which of my many food allergies brought on my scary aura and Migraine. If I took an antihistamine instantly, the aura would gradually disappear within 15 to 30 minutes and the actual headache would never even happen. There are 2 different anti-
histamines which work well for me : Chlorpheniramine maleate or Cetirizine.

5 Kati { 05.24.12 at 5:37 pm }

I used to get migraines that would stretch out for days. After trying the pills the doctor gave me (without luck), I went to a naturopath and had a food allergy test done. When I cut out the the foods out of my diet that showed up as high on my allergy test (wheat, nuts), my migraines practically disappeared. I would definitely suggest getting food allergy tested for my fellow migraine sufferers.

Thanks for the article! The ginger and peppermint oil are lifesavers! I also use lavender oil (on my jaw and temples) and then rub ice over it. I didn’t know about the B2. I’ll have to get some and give it a try. :)

6 Judy { 05.23.12 at 10:38 pm }

After suffering for years and being told it was hormones! I went to a biofeedback therapist who told me my migraines were caused by bananas. She was right! Even though my migraines did not necessarily occur after eating them, I quit eating bananas for a few months.. Within seconds of biting into a banana muffinI had a migraine. I have not eaten bananas since, and my occasional migraines are now only caused by chemical exposure (fragrances ,etc)

7 brichan { 05.23.12 at 4:44 pm }

red tiger balm all on your head and neck.avoid eyes lips and really burns but when you get past it it works every time.i put a towel over my head and like a half hour its better

8 Debbie { 05.23.12 at 2:04 pm }

I, too, suffer from this painful malady. After ingesting all the counter-selling meds like candy I finally had a doctor who prescribed sumatriptan. As long as I catch it at the onset I find one pill in a period of 24 hrs as prescribed works for me. I still don’t know what causes them as yet but a good warning sign is like looking through broken glass or a pain starts in my left tempo area.

9 MW { 05.23.12 at 1:56 pm }

My doctor suggests that one theory is migraines can start anywhere between the gut and head and I find that making sure there is no slow down of gut action is important in prevention and cure of a migraine. I get them or some symptoms of them from damage due to surgeries in my abdomen. I think the vagus nerve is involved but docs never agree; it makes sense because the vagus nerve piggybacks blood vessels in the gut and the vagus nerve affects sinus, and shares fibers with the accessory nerve that can tighten up the shoulder (upper trapezius muscle); and why would not having nerve action on one side of the body’s sympathetic system functioning differently than the sympathetic system on the other side of body and brain NOT cause confusion and head pain?? Reading Wolff Headache book (medical tome regularly updated) a while back, the vagus nerve was overlooked. But what to do about it? ICE really is my friend. A small sinus spray of a novacaine preparation makes swallowing difficult but does help stop migraines for me…but be careful HOW you spray as the dura of the brain is close to the spray area and vulnerable to strong blasts from some sprays. Also anything to open one sinus (mist not spray) seems to help so sometimes I use both such a spray and a bit of novacaine preparation a compounding pharmacy makes up for me when it’s bad. Have them make it without preservatives perhaps. Endometriosis, IC, migraines are often found together–gut involvement. Scarring from past surgeries in my opinion does not do much good either. SO many triggers; so little ways to fix them.

10 Deb Godsil { 05.23.12 at 1:14 pm }

Weather disturbances cause around 70% of the migraines that I encounter…Hormonal fluctuations, stress and food triggers the other 30%. I find that if I can lay in the dark and pack my head in ice it helps to alleviate the pain enough for me to function. Caffeine can be a trigger yet it can also be a cure. If you typically avoid caffeine (like I do) then drinking caffeine can help ease the pain…I don’t drink coffee so I will drink a Mountain Dew Throwback when nothing else has worked.

11 Rosemary Dias { 05.23.12 at 12:18 pm }

I have suffered with migraines since I was a teenager and I’m now 65. I have all the classic symptoms plus a few others. I either smell smoke, orange blossoms or roses. My trips to the hospital have resulted in compazine and morphine. I have tried all the prescription medications and have been through a battery of tests. My last CT scan was yesterday. Awaiting the results. Right now, the only thing that helps is Relpax.

12 larry { 05.23.12 at 11:18 am }

for migraines 500 to 1500 ml. of niacine the type that makes u flush gets blood flowing and works beware u will feel like u have a sunburn but will go away and so did the migraine

13 Lillian Lopata { 05.23.12 at 10:50 am }

I too suffer from migraines and the last one I ended up in the ER. Having tried medication, bathing, sleeping, and shading my eyes, I thought a shot was in order. The ER thought differently. After an IV, Cat Scan and blood work they determined it was indeed a migraine and gave me a shot of diladid. Ten minutes later it was an injection of Toradol. Which finally got it to a manageable level. What happen to the days when a simple shot would have taken care of it.No wonder our insurances are throwing fits.

14 Elaine { 05.23.12 at 10:09 am }

I suffered with severe migraines for years, mostly during my 30′s and early 40′s. Each one would be different, but all began with the auras and tunnel vision and complete lack of comprehension capabilities. I could rationalize within my mind what was going on around me, but could not understand a word anyone was saying to me. After many scary episodes, I became determined to find the actual trigger for these. I began making a list of all I had eaten, if I was experiencing a stress/emotional event, or even the weather at the time (low pressure systems). My findings were basically all anti-oxidant related. I cannot drink green tea, red wines, dark chocolate, and dark berries/grapes. If I have the slightest amount of any of these I will become very sensitive to triggers like weather low pressure systems or glare from a vehicle. It took some time but I’ve been free from migraines for three years or more.

15 Jayla SunBird { 05.21.12 at 10:51 am }

This’ super information, J-Mac; seems everybody I’ve ever been around, has suffered from
this malady for at least a whule; even small children. A lil first aid until they can get to a doctor is always precious. I’m sure I thank you for many.

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