At some point in your life, you've probably endured a headache, which is bad enough. For some people, though -- about 12 percent of Americans -- the experience is much more severe: chronic migraines. While they may seem similar to a common headache, migraines are characterized by recurring bouts of moderate to severe throbbing pain that is usually localized on just one side of the head.
Some sufferers can predict the onset of a migraine because they see zigzag lines or flashes of light; they may even temporarily lose their sight. Although the degree of intensity varies widely among individuals -- and even among migraines -- some people experience sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, and vomiting in addition to the pain in their heads.
Chronic migraines can occur at any time, making it extremely challenging for sufferers to maintain a stable routine. If you deal with migraines, how can you cope? Specifically, how can you limit the frequency and potency of these painful bouts?
The wide variety in migraine triggers and symptoms makes the condition challenging to treat. In fact, medical experts have come a long way in simply establishing its cause. The prevailing belief for many years was that migraines were caused by constricted blood vessels around the brain. Many now subscribe to the theory, however, that migraines are related to the expression of certain genes that control the action of various cells in the brain. This would explain the genetic predisposition toward chronic migraines seen in some families.
There are many medications used to stop or prevent migraines, several of which are available over the counter. To be effective, these must be taken at the very first sign of an oncoming migraine. But what about less-common treatment options?
In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Botox for use in the prevention of migraines. Of course, Botox has a long history in cosmetic surgery, but several studies have found that a series of injections in specific spots in the head and neck can reduce the severity and frequency of chronic migraines. A few alternative treatments, including butterbur and feverfew, have been explored for their potential in migraine treatment -- with mixed results. Discuss any alternate options with your doctor to see if they're worth trying in your individual case.
Practice Headache Hygiene
One of the best strategies for preventing and combating chronic migraines is a lifestyle-management technique called headache hygiene, which involves making a few preventive lifestyle changes and identifying potential triggers.
A healthy, balanced daily routine is key to controlling migraines for most sufferers. This includes getting adequate sleep based on a regular sleep pattern, exercising regularly, and reducing stress. To that end, many migraine sufferers have had success with yoga and other forms of mindful exercise that place an emphasis on stress management and controlled breathing. The increased flexibility that results from this type of exercise may also help to reduce pain.
The best way to identify triggers is to keep a headache journal, detailing everything you did, experienced, and ate surrounding each migraine. This record will help you pinpoint certain factors in your life that could increase the frequency and severity of your migraines so you can avoid them as much as possible.
You can research and experiment with the plethora of treatment options available, and a few may work well for you, but there's no getting rid of migraines completely. While seeking treatment is a big piece of the puzzle, just as important is getting to know underlying routines and habits that surround your worst migraine moments. It's not just about finding the perfect pill; taking a good look at your day-to-day activity, sleeping schedules, and exercise frequency may hold the key to getting control of your migraine problem.