Only a migraine sufferer can truly understand how debilitating and horrifically painful these attacks really are. And if you suffer from migraines then you’ll know that as soon as the first symptoms start, finding a way to combat the pain quickly is vital.
But what if there was a way to not only ease an attack naturally once it starts, but head off (no pun intended) a migraine before it’s even started? By understanding the causes, you have a better chance of stopping an attack before it starts (and sends you off to lie quietly in a dark room for hours on end).
What’s the difference between a headache and a migraine?
This is the most common type of headache – around 70% of cases. Tension headaches happen because head and neck muscles contract and build up pressure and they tend to affect both men and women equally.
Typical causes of tension headaches are stress, tiredness, eye strain, drinking and smoking or hormone changes for women around their period.
Tension headaches are normally quite a general pain and don’t usually last very long. It could be worth trying a natural headache cure before you reach for the pills.
If it’s a headache you have, try one of our natural headache cures before reaching for the pills
A migraine causes around 20% of headaches and are known to affect women more than men.
This type of headache happens because blood vessels in the head and neck shrink and reduce the blood flow.
Symptoms are an intense headache at the front or on one side of the head, which the NHS describe as ‘usually a severe throbbing sensation that gets worse when you move’. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sweating, poor concentration, feeling very hot or very cold, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and being very sensitive to light and sound.
Types of migraine
There are several types of migraine, including:
Migraine with aura: There is a warning sign before the migraine begins, such as flashing lights Migraine without aura: The migraine occurs without any warning signs Migraine aura without headache (or silent migraine): There’s an aura or other migraine symptoms, but no headache Some can suffer from migraines frequently (up to several times a week – can you imagine?) whilst others will suffer only occasionally.
Think you could be suffering from migraines? Start a migraine diary so you can spot the triggers
I think I could be suffering from migraines, what now?
If you think you might be getting migraines, then we absolutely recommend going to your GP as soon as possible to have a chat about what could be causing it, and ways to combat the symptoms (there is no cure for migraines sadly, only ways of easing the symptoms).
As soon as you’ve made your appointment, start a migraine diary. This is the best step you can take in identifying what might be triggering your attacks. Make a note of everything – maybe you drank some red wine or ate chocolate, maybe it was your time of the month, perhaps you were feeling particularly tired or stressed? Try and keep a track and take it along to the doctor.
There are some migraine causes that are really common and could possibly be the reasons behind your own attacks. Take a look through the next few causes to see if they’re the same as your own (with advice from us and Dr Gill Jenkins on how to beat them for good)
The most common causes of migraines
Certain optical patterns
Bad news for all the Breton T-shirt lovers out there – scientists from the Netherlands and America have found that simply looking at stripes, in images or even in real life, can cause ‘neural loop’ of brain activity, which, in those prone to migraines, can lead to an onset.
Avoiding these lines can be difficult – just look at the floor boards, a radiator or even a stranger’s outfit! But eventually, the research could mean big changes are made in the future: ‘Our findings imply that in designing buildings, it may be important to avoid the types of visual patterns that can activate this circuit and cause discomfort, migraines, or seizures,’ explains author Dr Dora Hermes of the University Medical Center in Utrecht.
Dr Gill Jenkins from the Simplyhealth Advisory Research Panel (ShARP), says that you need to maintain a proper level of hydration and observe whether your migraines occur on days when you don’t drink enough.
You will also notice that you don’t go to the toilet much and your urine will also be darker than normal. To avoid a migraine, drink more clear fluids like water (still or fizzy), decaffeinated tea or coffee/fruit teas etc, rather than alcohol or caffeinated drinks. Coffee and alcohol are both recognised as potential triggers of migraines, so try abstaining from both for a month or two and see if you notice a decrease in your migraines.
Natural tip: Water, water, water! So good for you for so many reasons, keeping hydrated can be a huge benefit when it comes to seeing off those nasty migraines.
Stress is a huge trigger of migraines, which is bad news considering how frantic and busy we all often are. Running around after the kids, keeping the house in order, working and a million other things can quickly result in a stress-induced migraine attack.
Keeping a diary can really help to pinpoint exactly what kind of stress is triggering your migraines, so try to make a note of everything and work to diminish stress from your life where possible. (Not often easy, we know!)
Natural tip: Meditation can be a real help when it comes to alleviating stress. Try a meditation app. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a meditation kind of person, it’s the act of consciously taking time out for yourself to relax that will help beat stress and as a result, your migraine.
Poor posture/sitting at a screen
Think about your posture – do migraines always come after hours of sitting at a desk or computer? If so, it could be the brightness or glare of a computer, so try turning it down or using a screen protector. Alternatively, it could be your posture, so try to make sure you’re sitting properly when sat at your desk – sit up, chest forward and shoulders dropped back. You could even seek advice from a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor for potential exercises you can do to help.
Natural tip: Some scientists believe that getting regular exercise is one of the top ways to prevent and treat migraines. If you find yourself hunched over a screen all day long, or constantly bending down to pick things up around the house, trying some yoga could really help.
Being hungry is much more likely to trigger a migraine than any type of food, according to Susan Haydon at The Migraine Trust. ‘Craving specific foodstuffs, often sweet, is thought to be an early symptom of an impending migraine attack.’
Natural tip: If you suffer from migraines, always make sure you carry a cereal bar or something else to snack on in your handbag, or have one ready in your desk drawer.
The National Migraine Centre has some great tips if you think your migraines could be down to your favourite tipple. ‘Opt for white wine and clear spirits over red wine and cocktails, eat before and after drinking to prevent a drop in your blood-sugar levels. If you wake up feeling a little worse for wear eat something light and easy to digest to counteract the effects of the alcohol, try a fructose containing foods combined with carbohydrate eg. toast, honey and fruit juice. Take a couple of pain-killers if you need to, soluble or effervescent forms are useful and avoid drugs containing codeine as they worsen nausea. It’s also best to avoid caffeine as, like alcohol, it irritates the stomach.’
Natural tip: Lavender oil has been tipped as a great natural remedy for headache and migraine sufferers. Two to four drops for every two to three cups of boiling water are recommended when inhaling lavender-oil vapors as a headache treatment.
Bright lights, loud noises, strong smells
There are certain triggers which can be related to environmental issues around you, such as high altitude, weather changes, high humidity, loud noises, exposure to glare or flickering lights (even computer screens!). Strong smells can also trigger a migraine, the only way to determine this is by keeping a miragine diary and making a note of anything you think could be setting the headaches off.
Natural tip: A DIY scalp massage can be a great way to alleviate head pain. Researchers in Brazil found that massaging the greater occipital nerve – the area in the back of the head, at the base of the skull to me and you – reduces migraine pain.
Certain food or drink (dairy, chocolate, citrus fruits, caffeine)
Did you know that food-related triggers occur in about 10% of people with migraines? Confusingly, some people will crave sweet food, such as chocolate, before a migraine sets in, leading them to believe that eating sweet food is a cause. However, sometimes the craving for particular food is signally the start of a migraine.
Natural tip: Omega 3s can help eradicate the pain of a migraine. A dose of these healthy fats can fight inflammation, which is a likely culprit in many headaches and possibly some migraines.
Lack of sleep
Both too much and too little sleep could trigger a migraine. Some find that sleepless nights, a number of late nights and being over tired can trigger a migraine. Other people find that sleeping in or napping in the mornings has the same effect.
Natural tip: It’s important to unwind before you go to bed, just as it is to try and wake up at the same time every day. First step is banishing all computers and mobiles from the bed area! If you have a lot on your mind then try keeping a note pad and pen on your bedside table so you can jot down any thoughts that pop into your brain. You’ll be feeling relaxed and ready for slumber in no time!