When it comes to living with migraines, sometimes you’re willing to try just about anything to make the pain stop. A throbbing migraine can make you feel out of control. It is normal to have a desire to take charge again.
Some people have gone to great lengths to suppress pain and other symptoms. From spraying cayenne pepper in his nose to a strict diet, there is nothing that hasn’t been tried to ease the symptoms. Some complementary therapies for migraine are supported by research. Others, not so much. So why are we giving things a chance that might not work? And what are our best options?
Neesha Tapia, 30, of Fremont, CA, knows all too well what it’s like to be desperate for migraine relief. As a nurse, wife and mother of three young children, Tapia says migraines have affected her life in a big way.
“My migraines went from weekly to almost daily. They were very painful,” says Tapia. “I was nauseous and had to go to the ER several times, it was so bad.”
To ease the pain, Tapia tried several over-the-counter medications and supplements like CoQ10 and magnesium. These supplements have been reported to help with migraines. Tapia also tried Botox, An injection, known for its effect on wrinkles, is also FDA-approved to help prevent migraines in adults with chronic migraines. Not liking the results, he left the job. “It changed the shape of my face a bit,” says Tapia.
Jill Dehlin, 67, a health educator and board member of the National Headache Foundation, says she’s tried more than 60 medications since her migraines began in her early 30s. His migraine headaches became so severe that he had to drop out of his PhD program.
“I was willing to do anything to get relief from my pain,” says Dehlin. “I went for acupuncture and it was pain-free for an hour a week.” But after some time the acupuncture stopped working on him.
Jane Brandes, MD, a Nashville neurologist who gets migraines, has seen patients try different things to find relief. “I think people with migraines are some of the most optimistic people around,” she says. “If their migraine is not treated properly or has side effects, they are willing to try other options.”
Folk remedies include everything from running around the house three times to asking a seventh child to blow into your ear. Old Farmer’s Almanac, You hear more and more about ‘hacks’ these days, especially when it comes to nutrition.
“I have clients who come to me all the time and have some diet hacks for their migraines,” says Lizzie Swick, a registered dietitian in Montclair, NJ. She’s not talking about the well-researched nutritional strategies that really make a difference, like not starving yourself and identifying and avoiding migraine-triggering foods. Rigid (and unhealthy) plans or wavering whims are the only things that matter.
“Sometimes I want to turn off the Internet because it can be a harmful place of bad information,” says Swick, who also gets migraines.
Finding solutions is normal. “We feel like it’s somehow our fault, [that] If we did something differently, we wouldn’t get migraines,” Brandes says. “We tell ourselves that if we handle stress better, our migraines will go away.”
But although some changes can ease migraine pain, there is no cure. Brandts reminds people that migraine is a brain disorder.
“We used to treat epilepsy the same way we treat migraines now,” says Brandeis. “We thought the patient was doing something wrong because of them. Now we know: It is a disease. It’s not their fault.”
Is there risk in trying something new or different for migraine pain? The answer is not that simple.
Some things, such as acupuncture or eating smaller meals throughout the day, have been shown to help. Others, such as herbs such as St. John’s wort and ginkgo biloba may interact with some migraine medications.
“The slow and steady approach isn’t as sexy as something shiny and new on the Internet,” says Swick. “However, that doesn’t mean we have to abandon age-old nutritional wisdom just because we don’t see immediate results.”
“Trying treatments for your migraines can help and give you a sense of control,” says Brandeis. “However, when self-treating your condition, you may be overlooking important health factors.”
For example, migraine, especially migraine with aura (typically vision or other sensory disturbances that occur before or with a migraine), may be associated with an increased risk of stroke. For this reason, it is important to consult with your doctor.
If you want to try something new for your migraines, ask your doctor:
- Have you heard of this product or approach?
- Does it work?
- Is there any science behind it and what is the quality of that research?
- Are there any side effects?
- Will it interact with my current medications?
If you find yourself bouncing from one treatment to another, trying everything in the sun to ease your pain, a few things may help.
Do not discount medicines. It doesn’t have to be with/or help with migraines. There is a happy medium that includes both supplements and medical treatments. If you don’t get relief from herbs or a change in your diet, it’s still important to get help from your doctor.
“Diet, no matter how much we want it, can never take the place of medicine,” says Swick. “Although food is fundamental and one of the most important pillars of health, diet alone will not be as powerful as working with your doctor to help you find the right medication that works for you.”
Find a doctor you trust. Does your doctor ask questions? Show concern about your pain? Try something else if the first one doesn’t work? These are all questions that Brandts and other experts ask you when finding the right doctor to treat your migraines.
Consult an expert. Although your primary doctor or OB/GYN may initially treat your migraines, it is often helpful to see a headache specialist. Doctors who focus on migraines and other headache or brain diseases are called neurologists. They can provide special treatment and support. Brandez suggests paying attention to how often your head hurts. “If you’re having more than two migraine attacks in a month, it’s time to take action.”
Keep a migraine diary. It may sound simple, but doctors look at patterns such as time of day, location of migraines, level of pain, and other factors to determine a treatment plan for you. This may provide useful information. Many people only track pain and medications, but it’s a good idea to track any supplements, acupuncture, and other methods as well to find out how they affect your body. Dehlin suggests using apps like Migraine Buddy.
do not give up. You know the old saying: If at first you don’t succeed, try again. “We don’t have a cure for migraines yet, but there are things that can be done to reduce the effects,” says Brandeis. “I feel like I have to attack my migraine and I go to the AC
Acceptance,” says Swick. “My No. 1 goal now is to be realistic and kind to my body.”
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