Could A Magnesium Deficiency Be Making Your Migraines Worse?

magnesium deficiency

There are a variety of different factors which might make someone more likely to suffer from migraines. For example, you are more likely to suffer from migraines if you are; female, if you suffer from depression, if your family has a history of migraines, and these are to name just a few.

A magnesium deficiency is another thing which can make it more likely that a person will suffer from migraines.

A systematic review (the findings of which were published in the scientific journal Nutrients) found that there is a correlation between magnesium deficiency and headaches; and that this is an independent risk factor for migraines. Not ingesting enough magnesium, in addition to increased loss of it throughout the digestion process, can contribute to the deficiency.

It is possible to include more magnesium in your diet by eating foods that contain high levels of magnesium such as nuts, dark leafy greens, seeds, whole grains, beans and fish. It is also an option for those who have a migraine deficiency to take tablet supplements, or magnesium salts (though a doctor should be consulted before starting to take supplements).

Magnesium is an important mineral for the body to have. It is involved in enzyme and nerve activity, DNA and protein synthesis, and many key bodily functions. In terms of migraines specifically, magnesium has been shown to inhibit pro-inflammatory intracellular signalling. For some migraine sufferers, inflammation of blood vessels in the brain is a key element of their migraines – so a lack of magnesium (which helps to keep inflammation down) is especially bad news.

It’s also worth noting that a lack of magnesium was found in some migraineurs who suffered with aura migraines as a result of cortical spreading depression. Investigators explained that magnesium decreases the level of circulating calcitonin gene-related peptide, which is “involved in migraine pathogenesis through its ability to dilate intracranial blood vessels and produce nociceptive stimuli.” 

It has been reported that magnesium, with its relative lack of side effects, is particularly compelling for the treatment of migraines and headaches within groups in which side effects are less well tolerated (such as children, pregnant women, and the elderly population). The review authors therefore concluded that, “the use of oral magnesium salt represents a well-tolerated and inexpensive addition for the treatment of headache patients, to reduce the frequency of attacks and the costs of treatment both in terms of economic burden and adverse events”.

A New Lens to Fight Chronic Migraines

A contact lens designed by a group of researchers from the University of Ghent and the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (imec) in Leuven may prove to be useful to some migraine sufferers when it comes to managing their migraines.

Primarily made to help people who have damaged or lost their iris, this electronic contact lens is based on a series of concentric rings built on an LCD and run on ultra-low power so it can operate all day. The lens opens and closes its aperture to control the amount of light reaching the eye’s retina.

It is thought that it will be of help to those who have conditions such as aniridia (the absence of an iris), keratoconus (a thinning of the cornea which encases the eyeball), and those who suffer from light sensitivity – such as some chronic migraine sufferers.

The project’s lead researcher, Professor Andrés Vásquez Quintero, explained that; “Our smart contact lens can control the level of incoming light mimicking a human iris and offering a potential solution to vision correction […] This way, our approach can surpass current solutions to combat human eye iris deficiencies. Its beneficial optical effects will be further clinically validated and developed into a medical device.”

When the finished lens is ready, the researchers predict that it may be of benefit to around 20 million people worldwide – some of them migraine sufferers.

What Are The Different Migraine Types?

migraine types

Understanding migraines – what they are, what causes them, and what can be done about them – is hard enough at the best of times. It’s even harder though when there are so many variations of migraine which you might be experiencing and need specialised treatment for.

 

With that in mind, these are, in brief, some of the different types of migraine which exist.

 

Migraine without aura

This is a head pain which lasts between 4 and 72 hours when untreated, and which takes place usually on one side of your head. Other symptoms of this “traditional migraine” are; nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, sensitivity to light, sounds and smells. 70-90% of people with migraines experience this form of migraine.

 

Migraine with aura

This involves the headache pain of a migraine without aura, but with the addition of extra symptoms which develop over a 5-20 minute period and last for less than an hour. These symptoms can include (but are not limited to); seeing coloured spots in your vision, flashing lights, numbness or tingling, dizziness, and nausea.

 

Chronic migraine

This is the term given to migraines which occur on more than fifteen days per month.

 

Menstrual migraine

As the name suggests, this migraine is linked to the menstrual cycle. This type of migraine is thought to be caused by a drop in oestrogen and the release of prostaglandin just prior to menstruation. This migraine can strike in the two days leading up to the start of a period, and in the first few days of the period itself.

 

Hemiplegic migraine

This is a migraine during which sufferers experience temporary weakness on one side of the body. This can be accompanied by vision problems, speech difficulties and confusion. It’s particularly stressful as this migraine has symptoms which are similar to those of a stroke.

 

Migraine with brainstem aura

This was previously known as basilar-type migraine. It involves an aura phase that precedes headache pain, and during which symptoms such as slurring of speech, pins and needles or loss of function in the arms/legs, ringing in the ears, and loss of balance can develop gradually.

 

Vestibular migraine

This variant of migraine involves feeling dizzy, having balance problems, or experiencing vertigo as the main migraine symptom – though other migraine symptoms such as headache and nausea can also occur with this type of migraine.

 

Migraine Increases As A Result Of Coronavirus

coronavirus

We already know the devastating havoc which catching the coronavirus can result in. Reduced lung capacity, fever, difficulty breathing – the illness is incredibly serious.

It’s not just the catching the virus itself that is causing people damage though. The effects of staying inside and distanced from friends and family has been shown to be having a marked impact on the mental wellbeing of society as a whole and on an individual level.

Migraine sufferers have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in an additional way. Migraine sufferers have reported that they are experiencing more frequent and more severe migraines since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

A new survey conducted by the Migraine Association of Ireland, alongside pharmaceutical company Novartis, detailed this finding via their sample group of 120 adults living with migraine in Ireland. 58% of the survey respondents reported that they had been suffering from more frequent migraine attacks. 69% of the group said that their migraines symptoms have worsened since the coronavirus crisis began.

It’s no coincidence that migraine attacks have increased in number and severity at the same time as the pandemic has struck. Of the 58% of sufferers who reported having more frequent attacks, 84% said that this was because of the stress caused by the pandemic.

Other migraine exacerbating factors are cited as being; disrupted daily routines, increased screen time, disturbed sleep patterns, and many other triggers being encountered on a more regular basis as a result of lockdown.

Although there is no easy solution, some advice which has been offered to try and reduce the migraine increase has been to try to reduce stress through meditation and yoga, taking regular breaks from screens during the day, and creating a new daily routine and sticking to it as much as is possible.

Does Chocolate Trigger Migraines? Maybe Not…

chocolate

Eating chocolate is often cited as a migraine trigger. In the past, some migraine sufferers have been advised to avoid eating chocolate in case it brings on an attack. Some migraine sufferers have also noticed that they suffer from a migraine attack after eating it, and so have concluded themselves that it is a trigger for them and have chosen to avoid it.

While every migraine sufferer is different and will have different migraine triggers, it has been claimed that chocolate could be a trigger for a great proportion of those migraine sufferers. The American Migraine Foundation has said that it is thought to be the second most common trigger for migraines (alcohol being the most common), with 22% of migraine sufferers feeling that it is a trigger. However, in more recent years following greater levels of research, the evidence doesn’t seem to support the chocolate=migraine attack hypothesis.

Now researchers believe that eating chocolate and the onset of a migraine attack may be linked, but more in terms of bodily cravings which occur just before an attack (it has been suggested that a craving may actually be a migraine warning sign), rather than cause-and-effect.

In one study, even eating large amounts of chocolate didn’t trigger a migraine attack when the participants couldn’t tell if they were eating it. In fact, and perhaps shockingly to some, all provocative studies conducted in relation to chocolate and migraines have failed to show that it can trigger a migraine. Rather, the possible mechanisms through which chocolate can influence migraines are more beneficial rather than attack-triggering.

The reason the body may crave chocolate before an attack has been suggested as being to do with a need to boost its level of serotonin. Some migraines medications are based on this serotonin deficit – the drug sumatriptan acts like serotonin in the brain and this is one reason why it can help to relieve some migraines.

When it comes to chocolate, it contains a substance called tryptophan, which breaks down into serotonin in the body. So it seems that a craving could be your body trying to naturally restore its serotonin balance.

With all this in mind, chocolate doesn’t necessarily deserve the migraine-trigger label it’s been given.

Study Finds Migraines Cost More If You’re A Woman

migraines women

Migraines are a pain, in far more ways than just one. They hurt our head, naturally, but they can also hurt our confidence, our daily routines, and our wallets. In a study which was recently published in The Journal of Headache and Pain, a team of Italian researchers presented their findings which showed that the financial cost of migraines was far greater for women.

The team enrolled 548 patients who were suffering from chronic and episodic migraines and then the team broke down the cost of migraines which the patients had to pay into its different parts.

The main cause of expenditure was medication – medication costs accounted for 86.3% of the total costs. After that came specialist visits – 10.2%, hospitalisations – 1.9%, diagnostic tests – 1%, and emergency department visits – 0.1%. The average cost of medications was €1286 (or around £1159), and, of this, preventative medications was the majority of the cost at €1095 (or around £987).

The Italian government covered most of the costs, with average annual expenditure per patient coming in at €1482 (approximately £1336), but even so, patients had an annual, personal expenditure of €255 (approximately £230).

The main findings of the study in terms of differences between migraine sufferers, and which sufferers had to pay more, were that chronic migraines incurred a cost which was 4.8 times higher than the costs incurred from episodic migraines, but perhaps most notable was the finding that costs were significantly higher for women. The annual cost of migraine for female sufferers was €1517 (or £1368), but for men the cost was only €1274 (or £1149).

The researchers did not say why they thought the costs were higher for women, but historically men are less likely to ask for help or medication and instead feel that they must “grin and bear it”. This is one theory as to why the medication cost is less – the men’s propensity to try and do without medication.

It may also be that the medication which is recommended to women is different to that recommended to men (migraines triggered by the menstrual cycle are likely going to have different preventative medication prescribed for them to migraines which are triggered by environmental factors), and this medication which women took was more expensive.

These are just theories however, and more detailed studies would need to be done to find out why there is a cost discrepancy; what (if anything) can be done about it; and whether it is only a discrepancy for Italian migraine sufferers, or if migraines are more expensive to treat for women around the world.

What Makes Episodic Migraines Chronic?

episodic

The thing that differentiates chronic migraine from episodic migraine is how many days the migraine sufferer experiences migraines per month. Episodic migraines are defined as those which take place on fourteen days or fewer per month, while chronic migraines are fifteen or more headache days per month.

Chronic migraines have been shown to bring a greater individual and societal burden as those who experience them are “significantly more disabled than those with EM (episodic migraines) and have greater impaired quality of life both inside and outside the home”.

While not everyone who has chronic migraines will have them after having experienced episodic migraines first, some do have chronic migraines which are a result of worsened episodic migraines. Annually around 2.5% of those who experience episodic migraines see their migraines progress into being chronic migraines. This worsening is something which both sufferers and researchers are keen to find out more about in an effort to prevent as many migraine sufferers as possible from seeing their episodic migraines grow into chronic migraines.

Recent data from a systemic review of previous research (which ruled out biases and poor-quality studies) pointed to a few main factors which contribute to the progression of episodic migraines into chronic migraines. These are depression, medication overuse, allodynia (where harmless stimuli cause pain), and receiving a low income.

Those who suffered from depression were 58% more likely to have their episodic migraines become chronic, while medication overuse increased the odds of developing chronic migraines by 8.8 times. Allodynia increased the chances of episodic migraines turning chronic by 40%, and receiving an annual income below the $50,000 mark increased the likelihood of going from episodic to chronic by 35%. It was suggested that a reason for the low income risk may be that a higher income allowed sufferers access to information and treatments which prevented migraines becoming chronic.

Being aware of what the risk factors are when it comes to developing chronic migraines can help both migraine sufferers and medical professionals alike to guard against this unwanted migraine evolution, and to be vigilant in watching for any signs of episodic migraines becoming chronic migraines. Prevention is so important, as too is fast action if the problem arises.

Migraines, Depression and Anxiety – What to look out for

depression anxiety

It’s estimated that around 20% of people who suffer from episodic migraines (migraines which take place on fourteen or fewer days per month) may also have depression. That percentage of sufferers goes up as the number of migraine days per month increases. In fact, suffering from migraines makes you five times more likely to suffer from depression than someone without migraines. However, on a more positive note, depression and migraines are so closely linked that some antidepressant medications, including some SNRIs, have successfully been used to prevent migraines. 

Anxiety is also a big problem for migraine sufferers. Between 30% and 50% of people with chronic migraines are thought to suffer with anxiety, and about 20% of episodic migraine sufferers. 

Unfortunately, depression and anxiety are bi-directionally co-morbid, so to suffer from one of these problems makes you far more likely to develop the other.

With such a prevalence of anxiety and depression among migraine sufferers it’s important to know what symptoms to look out for.

Common symptoms of depression include; a loss of interest in things which used to cause pleasure (hobbies, seeing friends etc), difficulty sleeping, feeling fatigued, difficulty concentrating, decreased sex drive, feeling sad and hopeless, and changes to eating habits – some people go off their food, while others may take to comfort-eating.

Common symptoms of anxiety can include; irritability, excessive fear, and worrying overly in normal life. Given that migraines are unpredictable and for some sufferers an attack can strike at any time, it’s not surprising that anxiety can become an issue.

Depression and anxiety are both treatable conditions – both by means of medication and also through therapies such as CBT, biofeedback, and other non-pharmaceutical treatments. If you suspect you may be suffering from either depression or anxiety, go to your doctor. There will definitely be things they can do to help.

Concussion? Your Migraines May Mean It’s Worse

concussion

Data from the prospective longitudinal Toronto Concussion Study has shown that migraine history predicted how severe a person’s concussions would be.

The study was conducted by Laura Langer, MSc, from the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute of University Health Network, and her colleagues. Langer and the other researchers found that concussion patients who had a lifetime history of migraines before their injury/accident had significantly more concussion symptoms and higher symptom severity scores than those people without a history of migraines.

The study looked at a total of 302 concussion patients, of whom 116 reported having a pre-injury history of migraines – although after their injury, 92% of all of the patients reported from suffering from headaches.

The patients were enrolled in the study within seven days of their head injury and concussion diagnosis from local referring emergency departments. Once enrolled, the patients completed questionnaires about their concussion symptoms and severity every week for the first eight weeks of the study, and then at week twelve and week sixteen of the study.

In the first week, 42% of the group who had a history of migraines said that they had “continuous” post-traumatic headaches, while only 16% of the patients who had no migraine history reported continuous post-traumatic headaches. The migraine-history group also had a tendency towards a slower recovery. At week sixteen 22% of the migraine-history group had still not recovered to the point of their pre-concussion migraine frequency baseline.

This study was one of the few studies which “have linked symptomatic recovery to pre-injury baselines”. The reason the study’s findings that migraine patients have more severe concussions is important because “it may flag that a patient is at risk for a prolonged recovery, which could influence treatment plan – lifestyle modifications, appropriate pharmacological treatment considerations, etc”.

Reducing Migraine Frequency with CBT

CBT

A new paper published in the eminent scientific journal Headache has found that four out of five migraine sufferers experienced fewer migraine headaches following CBT.

CBT is short for cognitive behavioural treatment. It’s one of the most widely taught and most readily available types of psychotherapy in the US, and is similarly popular with UK doctors and therapists. It can be used to treat a range of illnesses such as insomnia, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome, but has also been used to help migraine sufferers.

The practise of CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are all interconnected, and that by breaking bad thoughts and unhelpful behaviours the end negative result can be changed. As well as changing negative patterns to improve how people feel, CBT aims to break down overwhelming problems into smaller parts.

The new paper published in Headache detailed the results of a study in which eighteen adolescents with migraines were given eight weekly CBT sessions. Before the first CBT session, and after the final CBT session, the participants underwent MRI scans to assess the level of activity and connectivity in different areas of the brain through blood-oxygen-level-dependent contrast scans. After the CBT, the scans showed that there was a greater level of activity in the frontal regions associated with the cognitive regulation of pain, and in the amygdala which is the area of the brain which deals with stress and raw emotions.

At the start of the study, before the CBT, the participants suffered from an average of fifteen migraines per month. After the eight weeks of CBT, this has dropped to an average of ten migraines per month.

Not all migraine sufferers may find CBT helps them. Just as each migraine sufferer is unique and will have slightly different symptoms to another sufferer, the underlying cause of each migraine sufferer’s migraines will be different, and so the effective treatment will vary from person to person. All the same, given how many of the study participants CBT helped, and despite the fact that CBT does not stop migraine attacks completely, it could still be a helpful treatment route for some migraine sufferers to pursue.