How Psychotherapy Can Help Migraine Sufferers

psychotherapy

Tablets are good, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to treating medical conditions. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, physiotherapy, and much more can be effective in relieving certain conditions.

One thing which has proved helpful with some migraine sufferers is psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is a term which encompasses a few different treatments such as mindfulness-based stress reduction for migraine (MBSR-M), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), biofeedback, and relaxation training. These not only help by managing how the sufferer responds to pain, but there is also evidence to suggest that some of these treatments can reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of migraine attacks, as well as lowering the overall burden of migraine.

Part of the reason that psychotherapy can be effective is down to neuroplasticity. This is the theory that the brain can change the response it has to what is practised and what is experienced.

Another reason why psychotherapy can help is because it can reduce stress. Up to 80% of migraine patients say that stress is a trigger for their attacks.

Unlike with traditional pharmaceutical options, psychotherapy is far less likely to result in any adverse side effects, and this is one reason why it might be the preferred treatment option for some migraine sufferers. Alternatively, it can also be a path to go down for migraine sufferers who have other medical conditions which make taking medication for their migraines impossible due to dangerous interactions between drugs. 

Migraines and A Greater Risk of High Blood Pressure

blood pressure

There are several conditions which have been linked to migraines and one of these is high blood pressure – or hypertension to give it it’s medical name. 

Not only can repeated migraine attacks be a sign that you could have high blood pressure, but suffering from high blood pressure can put you at a greater risk of developing both chronic and episodic migraines.

The type of migraine which a person experiences has an influence on how likely it is that that person will have or develop high blood pressure in their lifetime.

One study followed nearly 30,000 women over the course of 12 years. Looking at the results of this study it was found that, when compared with women who had no history of migraine, those women who suffered from migraine without aura had a 21% increased risk of high blood pressure, while women who suffered from migraine with aura only had a 10% increased risk.

While there is certainly a link between migraine and high blood pressure, whether the relationship between migraines and high blood pressure is causal (one leading to the other), or whether there is an underlying reason behind both the migraines and the high blood pressure, is currently unknown. At present it appears as though that there may be a genetic trait which is linked to suffering both from migraines and high blood pressure, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Whatever the cause, being aware of whether you have high blood pressure or not is important for most people, but for migraine sufferers it is particularly important – as those suffering from migraines are at a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease or strokes. Since there is currently no cure for migraines, it’s important to control any other cardiovascular disease contributing factors – such as high blood pressure.

How Dogs Can Help With Migraines

dogs

A key thing when it comes to dealing with a migraine attack is being prepared for it. This can include having somewhere dark and quiet ready where you can go until the attack is over; already having drinks, snacks, ice packs and medications packed in a migraine survival kit so you don’t need to try and gather them while an attack is going on; and taking those medications as soon as you feel an attack coming.

With quite a few migraine medications, the sooner you take them, the more effective they are. This is because it gives them more time to get into the bloodstream and to ease symptoms, especially as some migraine suffers find that their digestive system slows right down during an attack – making oral medications that much less easily absorbed. It’s this need for early treatment that means that being alerted to an oncoming attack can make much such a big difference to the severity of an attack. This is where migraine alert dogs come in as they can recognise the earliest stage of a migraine – the prodrome.

In the prodrome phase of a migraine, small changes such as more yawning, having food cravings, feeling tired, having mood changes, and going to the bathroom more often can all occur. The prodrome phase of the migraine attack can start up to 48 hours before the aura or pain phase of a migraine attack and studies have found that up to 40% of migraine sufferers experience a prodrome phase.

Just as guide dogs for the blind are specially trained dogs, so are migraine alert dogs; but while guide dogs are trained to help their owners navigate when out and about, migraine alert dogs are trained to recognise these prodrome-related subtle changes in their owner’s physical or psychological behaviour. The dog can then alert their owner by nudging, licking, circling, barking, or not leaving their side.

If some of this sounds familiar, but you don’t have a trained migraine alert dog, then it’s entirely possible that your dog is simply doing it as a natural reaction to your oncoming attack. In one study, close to 60% of migraine sufferers who owned a dog reported that their dog had actively alerted them to an oncoming attack, and 50% said their dog behaved differently towards them before the onset of a headache.

Migraine and the Menopause

migraine menopause

Plenty of things change when it comes time for the menopause. Some of them are more well-known like mood swings and hot flushes, but there are some significant changes which are less often talked out. One of these changes is the effect which the perimenopause and menopause can have on a person’s migraines.

Migraines are significantly more common in women of reproductive age partly due to regularly fluctuating hormone levels. Just before a period begins oestrogen levels drop and this withdrawal may help to trigger a migraine attack. In fact, one article in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Neurological Disorders cites a 71% increase in the risk of having a migraine in the two days leading up to a period. Oddly enough though, high levels of oestrogen which are common when leading up to ovulation can also help to trigger a migraine attack.

When the perimenopause comes (the time leading up to the menopause) and a person’s periods become less regular, migraines may become more frequent and severe. However, once the perimenopause has led into the menopause and the menopause has passed (which is defined by doctors as a period of 12 months without menstrual cycles) it’s been found that migraines may improve. Most population-level studies show that migraine headaches usually improve after menopause, and possibly this is because a person no longer experiences the hormone fluctuations.

Unfortunately for some people they can find that their migraines get worse. If this is the case, then there are some things which can be done. A 2017 research article recommends continuous hormone therapy as a way to reduce migraines, and as an added bonus hormone replacement therapy can help to ease other menopause symptoms.

Can CoQ10 Help Prevent Migraines?

coQ10

There are a few different vitamins and nutrients which have been credited with reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks. Magnesium is one, riboflavin is another, and Coenzyme Q10 is a third.

Coenzyme Q10, or CoQ10 for short, has had a few studies conducted to explore its efficacy. On the whole these studies have only had a small number of participants, so it’s hard to draw definitive scientific conclusions from them in regards to migraine pain reduction, and especially hard to identify from these studies what the best dosage per day may be, but there is certainly evidence that some amount of CoQ10 could help to prevent migraine attacks.

A 2019 study which involved adult women who had episodic migraines gave its participants a high dose of CoQ10 – 400 mg per day, for three months, and found that this amount led to a reduction in migraine frequency and severity. That’s not to say that the dose has to necessarily be that high though. A small study from 2005 found that 100 mg of CoQ10 taken three times per day reduced the frequency of migraine attacks by around 48%. Another study from 2016 found that 100 mg of CoQ10 per day, when taken in addition to preventative medication for migraines, reduced the frequency and intensity of monthly migraine attacks.

Identifying what the ideal daily dosage of CoQ10 is should certainly be done. Despite the fact that CoQ10 may not be a prescription medication which you can overdose on in the classic sense of the word, taking too much can increase the risk of experiencing side effects like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

In finding out whether taking CoQ10 is effective in preventing and treating migraines, it’s not even as simple as identifying how much CoQ10 should be taken, but what kind of CoQ10 should be taken and how long it may take for the benefits of it to be seen after commencing taking it.

There are two types of CoQ10 – ubiquinol and ubiquinone, and some studies have found that ubiquinol is more easily absorbed than the ubiquinone form. Which of these two kinds of CoQ10 you are taking may influence how high the daily dose needs to be to become effective. Though whichever it is, it may be up to three months of taking the supplement before any improvement in the migraines are seen.

Having said all this, and despite some evidence that CoQ10 can help to reduce the severity of migraines, CoQ10 is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in migraine treatment or prevention, and is only listed as a dietary supplement.

The Pros and Cons of Acupuncture for Migraines

acupuncture for migraines

Alternative therapies are popular among a lot of migraine sufferers as a means of treating migraines. Not only are they generally less likely to have side effects than pharmaceutical drugs, but many alternative therapies can be taken or conducted alongside pharmaceutical treatments.

One of these alternative treatments is acupuncture – a form of traditional Chinese medicine which has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. As for migraine specifically, a 2016 review found that acupuncture may be able to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks.

There are quite a few positives about using acupuncture to treat migraines. For one it’s relatively inexpensive, for another it has few side effects, and most importantly an increasing body of research suggests that it can help to prevent or decrease the frequency of migraines.

As for downsides, one of the biggest ones has to be that it involves being pierced with needles. If you don’t mind needles so much, this isn’t a huge problem, but it is important to be sure that the needles are sterile as unclean acupuncture needles can spread disease and infection.

Another con for acupuncture is that occasionally, when administered incorrectly, acupuncture can cause damage to internal organs. A paper from 2010 documented 90 acupuncture-related deaths, the majority of which were down to needles damaging organs.

The other big con for acupuncture is that about 10% of people who have it report having side effects from the treatment. These include nausea, fatigue, and, somewhat ironically, headaches.

There are good things and bad things about acupuncture so it’s not a simple case of it being a win-win treatment option. However, since two of the biggest cons for acupuncture come from improper delivery, if you do decide to try it in an effort to reduce your migraine frequency just be certain that the practitioner you are seeking treatment from is reliable and properly qualified.

How to Make Your Guest Bedroom Migraineur Friendly

guest bedroom

Do you have friends or relatives who suffer from migraines? Or suffer from them yourself? With 1 in 7 people around the world estimated to suffer from migraines, it’s likely that you know someone who does.

Whoever you know who is a sufferer, now that we can once again visit friends and family and have them stay overnight, this quick guide on things you can do to make a bedroom migraineur-friendly may be of use.

Blackout curtains

Many migraine sufferers find that bright lights are painful during an attack, and in some cases can help to trigger a migraine attack. Since not all curtains are very thick and so don’t effectively block out the light it can be helpful getting some blackout curtains which will. You can also get blackout linings which you can hang behind your existing curtains.

Get a green lamp

Some colours of lighting are better than others for migraine sufferers, and green light has been shown to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks so a green light therapy lamp could be a useful addition to the bedroom.

Remove scents

Strong smells can be a migraine trigger for many, so don’t be tempted to leave potpourri or scented candles in the room.

Be careful of your cleaning

Some cleaning products can trigger migraines – especially those which are high in chemicals and/or are scented. Keep the cleaning products which you use in the house natural if you can (bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar are both excellent all-round cleaning products).

Pillows

Poor posture puts strain on muscles – which can lead to muscle tension and, because of this tension build-up, a migraine attack.

Being properly supported in a good sleep posture is just as important as maintaining good posture during the day; so make sure that the mattress in the bedroom isn’t too old and isn’t lumpy and that the pillows are supportive. Some migraine sufferers find that a specific orthopaedic pillows are helpful. 

Gastric Stasis and Migraine Nausea

gastric stasis

Around 90% of migraine sufferers experience nausea as part of their attacks and 70% experience vomiting, and while it’s not certain exactly why this is, one reason for the nausea and sickness both during and before attacks may be gastric stasis.

Gastric stasis is where the stomach empties more slowly than it ought to (stasis coming from medical Latin and Greek means “stoppage” or “a standing still”). This slowing down of the digestion can be a problem for migraine sufferers not only in bringing feelings of nausea, but also by slowing the body’s uptake of oral medications. It’s for this reason that the recommendation that migraine medications be taken as soon as you feel an attack coming on is particularly important – once an attack is fully underway it may be too late to properly benefit from oral medications.

Migraine sufferers often suffer from gastric stasis, and it’s all down to a disruption in brain signals – as too is the occurrence of migraine auras. Normally the brain sends signals to the stomach and intestines telling the muscles to move, but doctors believe that migraines disrupt these signals.

Gastric stasis is not usually diagnosed via formal tests, but rather by reporting of symptoms to a medical professional – although formal tests such as a CT scan or an endoscopy may be performed to rule out any other causes.

Should you be diagnosed with gastric stasis, or suspect that it may be the cause of your migraine nausea, there are some things you can do to help relieve the nausea.

Eating four to five smaller meals a day rather than three bigger ones, and these meals consisting of softer foods that are easier to digest can help with the effects of gastric stasis. Cutting back on foods which are high in fat, foods which are too high in fibre, and avoiding fizzy drinks can help as well. As for medications to relieve the effects, your doctor may choose to prescribe you anti-nausea medication and drugs which can help the stomach to empty more quickly.

Why Does Vomiting Help to Relieve Migraines?

Why Does Vomiting Help to Relieve Migraines?

Approximately 70% of migraine sufferers experience vomiting as part of their migraine attacks. In fact, childhood migraines can involve only nausea and sickness; with no head pain at all. It may sound strange, but of the migraine sufferers who vomit as part of their migraine attacks, many find that they feel better after vomiting. Why is this?

There isn’t a lot of research into this aspect of migraine pain relief, but of what there is, a review paper from 2013 summarises some possible reasons why vomiting can bring migraine headache relief. 

One theory is that being sick triggers the release of chemicals which ease pain within the body. This theory is supported by a study from 1986 which suggested that vomiting triggers the release of endogenous opioids – these being endorphins which ease feelings of pain.

Another theory is that throwing up could somehow interact with the vagus nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system in a way that relieves pain. Vagus nerve stimulation, as well as being able to induce vomiting, can also relieve migraine headache pain, and some doctors now use vagus nerve stimulation implants to relieve pain in those sufferers who experience chronic migraine headaches.

Two more theories are that vomiting may change the blood flow in the body in such a way that pain or inflammation is reduced, or that, since vomiting happens towards the end of a migraine attack, it may simply be the beginning of the reduction of migraine symptoms.

The Calcium-Magnesium-Migraine Link

The Calcium-Magnesium-Migraine Link

We all know that vitamins and minerals are a vital part of a healthy diet, but with migraine sufferers some of them can have a huge impact on the frequency and severity of their migraine attacks. Calcium and magnesium are two such minerals.

A 2021 cross-sectional study investigated the relationship between severe headache or migraine and the daily intake of calcium and magnesium. The study, which involved almost 11,000 American adults, found that having a high dietary intake of magnesium and calcium was linked to being less likely to suffer from migraines.

Women who had a high dietary intake of magnesium or calcium, either one or both, were inversely associated with migraine, while men who had a high dietary intake of calcium were inversely associated with migraine – magnesium levels having no impact on migraine likelihood for them.

The reason that higher magnesium levels seemed to help women avoid migraines and not men may have something to do with the menstrual cycle. In past studies, women who suffered from menstrual migraines and who were given magnesium supplements found that their migraine pain and the number of headache days was reduced, and that the impact of premenstrual complaints were reduced.

Studies have been conducted in the past exploring the effects of mineral supplements on migraines, but this study was looking purely at the intake which came via normal diet. The researchers found that the migraine sufferers had daily intakes of calcium and magnesium that were significantly lower than the recommended daily allowance.

The investigators focused on natural intake as, although supplements can help to boost low mineral levels, supplements can also cause nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhoea. It’s for this reason that it can be best to try and eat foods which are naturally high in calcium and magnesium rather than to rely on supplements.

However, though boosting magnesium and calcium levels appears to be a positive move for migraine sufferers, further longitudinal studies are needed to establish whether the link between migraines and low magnesium and calcium levels is causal or not.