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Migraine

Understanding Migraines: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Migraines are more than just severe headaches; they are a neurological condition characterised by intense, debilitating headaches often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. This article delves into the definition, epidemiology, symptoms, and usual treatments of migraines, while also exploring self-help approaches and the intriguing connection between migraines and digestive health, particularly the role of the gut microbiome.

WHAT IS MIGRAINE?

A migraine is a type of headache that typically affects one side of the head and can last from a few hours to several days.

Migraines can be classified into two main types: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. An aura is a series of sensory disturbances that occur before the migraine attack, such as visual changes (like seeing flashes of light), tingling sensations, and difficulty speaking.

HOW COMMON IS MIGRAINE?

Migraines are a common condition affecting millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, migraines are the sixth highest cause of years lost due to disability globally. They are more prevalent in women than men, with about 18% of women and 6% of men experiencing migraines. Migraines often begin in adolescence and are most common in people aged 35-45 years.

Symptoms

Migraines can present with a variety of symptoms that can be broadly grouped into four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome.

  1. Prodrome: This early stage can begin hours or days before the actual migraine. Symptoms include mood changes, food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst, frequent yawning, and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea.

  2. Aura: Not all migraine sufferers experience aura. Those who do may see bright spots or light flashes, or have other sensory disturbances such as tingling in the face or hands and difficulty speaking.

  3. Attack: The migraine headache typically affects one side of the head, though it can affect both in some people. The pain is often described as throbbing or pulsating. Accompanying symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, light-headedness, and sensitivity to light, and sound, and sometimes sensitivity to smell and touch.

  4. Post-drome: This final phase can last for a day or two after the headache subsides, leaving the individual feeling drained and washed out, although some people report feeling euphoric.

Usual Medical Treatment FOR MIGRAINE

There is no cure for migraines, but several treatments are used to help manage the symptoms. These fall into two categories: acute treatments,  and preventive treatments.

  1. Acute Treatments:  These aim to stop a migraine once it has started, and include over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, aspirin, and paracetamol. Prescription medications such as triptans (e.g., sumatriptan) are also commonly used. Anti-nausea medications and medications containing caffeine are sometimes effective.

  2. Preventive Treatments: These aim to reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. Preventative strategies such as medications like beta-blockers, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and Botox injections are used for people who have frequent or severe migraines.

medicine and herbs for migraine

Self-Help FOR MIGRAINE

Many people who suffer with migraine find relief through dietary strategies and lifestyle modifications. These include:

  • Stress Management: Techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and regular exercise can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines.
  • Dietary Changes: Identifying and avoiding food triggers (such as chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods) can help.
  • Regular Sleep: Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is crucial.
  • Hydration: Staying well-hydrated can prevent dehydration, a known migraine trigger. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help change negative thought patterns and behaviours that may contribute to stress and migraines.
  • High Dose Omega-3 Fatty Acids; Research demonstrates that routine supplementation with high dose EPA/DHA  results in a notable decrease in migraine frequency and severity when taken as a preventative measure.

The Role of Oxidative Stress

Despite numerous studies concerning the pathophysiology of migraine, the exact  mechanism of disturbances underlying migraine is still unknown. One theory is that there are disturbances in the balance between reactive oxygen species (ROS) and antioxidant mechanisms. 

Several studies have explored the role of oxidative stress in people who suffer migraine, they have found:

  • Higher levels of oxidative stress and lower levels of antioxidant status are apparent in those who get migraine, compared to people who don’t.
  • Oxidative stress is higher during an actual migraine episode 

Should You Take Antioxidants To Prevent Migraine?

So far, this has not been well studied. However, given the evidence for increases in free radicals, creating oxidative stress, it is a logical pathway to explore. Research has revealed that reduction of oxidative stress by consuming molecular hydrogen-enriched water is a promising option with benefits for a range of pain disorders.

Hydrogen-rich water is safe to consume and has no known side effects. 

Link to Digestive Health and the Gut Microbiome

Recent research suggests a fascinating connection between migraines and digestive health, particularly the gut microbiome. The gut-brain axis, the bidirectional communication between the digestive system and the brain, has a significant role in this relationship.

  1. Gut-Brain Axis: The digestive system and the brain are in constant communication through the nervous system, hormones, and the immune system. Disruptions in the gut microbiome, such as an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria (called dysbiosis), can influence brain function and contribute to neurological conditions like migraines.

  2. Inflammation: Chronic inflammation in the digestive system can lead to systemic inflammation, which has been linked to migraines. Certain gut bacteria produce substances that can affect inflammation levels in the body.

  3. Serotonin Production: The gut produces about 90% of the body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and pain. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can affect serotonin levels, potentially triggering migraines.

  4. Diet and Probiotics: A diet rich in fibre and fermented foods can promote a healthy gut microbial profile. Probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria, may help maintain gut health and potentially reduce the frequency of migraines.

Conclusion

Migraines are a complex and multifaceted condition affecting millions of people. Understanding the various aspects of migraines, from their symptoms and treatments to the intriguing link with digestive health, can empower sufferers to manage their condition more effectively.

While more research is needed to fully understand the role of the gut microbiome in migraines, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and making informed dietary choices can contribute to better overall health and potentially reduce the burden of migraines.

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