I remember my first migraine attack so vividly.
I was about 9 years old and it was a hot summer day. My mother took us to go swimming in the neighborhood pool and I remember I was having the time of my life when I suddenly got this stabbing pain on my right temple and it just kept throbbing.
The pain was so unfamiliar to me that I didn’t know how to classify it. Was it pain? Is my head going to explode? What is going on? Is my brain just bouncing against my skull back and forth? Is this normal? You know, typical questions drawn by a 9 year child’s imagination. Nonetheless, I continued to play and did my best to ignore the pain.
I remember feeling nauseated as well but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of my swimming pool time. As we were walking back home, I remember the sun being so bright and with every step I took, it felt like my brain was literally bouncing back and forth in my cranium.
Looking back at it, “ignoring” the pain was probably the strongest thing I’ve ever done because when I get a migraine today, my whole life practically stops until I find the best way to get rid of it.
So, what is the best way to get rid of a migraine? Before we get into that, let’s discuss what exactly is a migraine and what are the causes of a migraine?
Migraines are NOT just a bad headache. A migraine it is a manifestation of neurological symptoms. This means that a chronic migraine or just any migraine involves nerves and brain chemicals or hormones.
There are so many different types of migraines and some actually occur outside of the brain. For instance, an abdominal migraine is one that affects infants and children and their abdomen is where the pain is located. And there are also specific types of migraines such as basilar migraines which we know affect specific structures in the bottom of the brain called the brainstem.
Migraines can be associated with auras, meaning they have a sign that tells you “hey, you have a migraine coming.” But just like there are aural migraines, there are migraines without auras and actually some people don’t even experience aura’s before migraines.
A typical migraine attack for me either starts as soon as I wake up or I suddenly get it in the afternoon. I’ve always had them like this. I rarely get a headache before I go to sleep or in the evening. If I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, I almost always end up with a migraine the next morning.
This past month I’ve actually had a bad migraine almost every day. Luckily, I am much better now. When someone gets migraines for over half of a month, those migraines are referred to as “chronic migraines”.
The first step in getting migraine relief is figuring out what triggers your migraines and working toward minimizing though triggers to prevent migraine episodes. A trigger is anything that can cause or induce a migraine episode.
The older I get, the more I learn about my migraine triggers, what they are, and how to deal with them so that I can avoid a migraine. Here are a few triggers for me and can very well be yours:
Ladies, those of you who get migraines associated with your menstrual cycle, you know how these migraines are. THEY ARE THE WORST. I hate these migraine attacks…not that I have a particularly favorite migraine attack but I mean these are just horrible.
To me, they are the most debilitating out of the migraines I get. These definitely are a 10/10 on the pain scale for me. I get constant, throbbing pain that does not go away until I finally fall asleep. And unfortunately, there isn’t anything that I have tried that seems to make them go away or to prevent them from recurring every cycle. Of course, I am always open to suggestions!
Because I am Sudanese, tea is basically a component of my bloodstream lol. I drink at least 2 cups of tea every day, especially in the morning and when I don’t, I have a migraine to look forward to that day.
Some people drink tea but I always drink tea in the morning but there are times when I’ve run out of milk and couldn’t make my tea (yes, we drink tea with milk and it’s delicious!!) so I end up suffering the whole day.
The first week of Ramadan is usually the toughest for me because I stay away from tea so I have a migraine almost every day that week and then my body adjusts to the no caffeine and I no longer get migraines.
I also drink green tea throughout the day and the week before exams, I drink a cup of coffee a day for the extra energy boost. Now to think of it, I think I may have a slight caffeine addiction but that’s another story lol
Stress literally destroys the body in all aspects. STRESS LITERALLY DESTROYS THE BODY IN ALL ASPECTS. I had to repeat that and capitalize it to make sure it is getting the proper emphasis.
Around exam time, I get severe migraines and I also get them after exams because I get so anxious about finding out my grades for the exams. Final times is really stressful, I would get migraines all the way until finals and the day of my exams, are really intense. I’ve noticed this trend about my body and stress definitely comes in all forms.
If you are prone to getting headaches, I’m almost positive that stress makes them worse.
A little bit of relief
Because migraines have an unknown cause, this makes treatment difficult. When I was younger and before medical school, I’ve done my best to avoid prescription medications for migraines.
I didn’t want to get into the habit of taking medications regularly but what I didn’t realize was that the more I tried to avoid medications, the more and more migraines I started to get.
I even stopped taking over the counter meds for migraines because I was scared I would damage my liver since I got migraines so frequently. It seemed that my migraines were getting worse.
I spoke to my neuroscience professor about this and I was told that the more I avoid the medication, the more my body becomes sensitized to triggers and getting migraines. This means that the more migraines I get that I don’t treat, the easier my body will react to a trigger and the easier I will get a migraine. This was completely new to me! I never knew this.
As of now, my professor has advised me to see my physician because he believes that I get chronic migraines. In the meantime, here are somethings that I have tried that have offered some relief in terms of migraines for me:
Over the counter medications
Over the years, I’ve tried so many different over the counter medications to help with pain relief. For example, Aleve, Excedrin, Extra strength Tylenol, Advil, Motrin (which by the way is the same thing as Advil) and they have all been great but eventually, they stopped working for me so I move on to the next one.
Black seed oil
Black seed oil is the apple cider vinegar for Sudanese people. Muscle aches? Black seed oil. Headache? Black seed oil. Sinus problems? Black seed oil.
According to my people, it cures numerous ailments. I’m not sure if there is research to back that up BUT I have definitely tried this before and I still do every time I get a migraine because honestly, I do get some relief when I apply black seed oil to my temples and forehead whenever I get a migraine attack. I also put it on my scalp and it helps.
Black seed oil has a strong smell and can stain clothes so be careful not to get it on your clothes. I find that the smell of it is what actually helps me with the migraines.
When I used to live back home and would get a migraine attack my mom would massage my shoulders lol it was amazing and within 30 minutes I would get sooooo much relief and sometimes the migraine would go away.
I was surprised this worked and of course, but my mom was the one who told me to try it and moms are always right.
Okay, first, I didn’t know it was called Vicks VAPO-Rub. I’ve always called it “Vick’s Vapor Rub.” Smh you live and you learn lol
Anyways, most foreign moms and grandmas prescribe Vicks VapoRub for about 90% of all sicknesses and ailments. There isn’t a thing my mom would not prescribe Vicks VapoRub for. So, when she first told me about it, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
As of yet, there isn’t a thing my mom has suggested that I have not tried so naturally I tried this, I mean…mom’s know everything after all, no matter how silly it may be sound.
Surprisingly, it really does reduce my pain I get with a migraine. When I get a migraine, I would apply it to my temples, and just lay in the dark for a little bit and would get a lot of relief afterward. I’m not sure if this is a placebo effect or we are on to something here.
Long term prevention
Now that we have talked about migraine triggers and some tips for pain relief, how do we prevent the frequency of migraines long term? Here are some long term strategies that I am implementing to help me cope with migraines. Try them and see how much of a difference they make for you:
Reducing and coping with stress
This will not just reduce the frequency of your migraines but I strongly believe that it will improve your quality of life. Like I’ve said before, stress is inevitable so we are bound to get stressed by something. What’s important is how to deal with that stress.
Whether it’s yoga and meditation or sprinting and lifting weights, whatever makes you feel better is ultimately reducing your stress. The more you do the things that make you forget about how hectic life is for a moment, the better off you will be.
Get more sleep
How many times have you heard that 8 hours a day are beneficial? Sleep, or lack thereof, has been implicated in so many health issues. I try my best to sleep at least 7 hours a night because I know from experience what lack of sleep does to my body.
If you get frequent migraines, try looking into your sleeping habits first. Let me know how that goes!
Consistency and balance are key
You don’t have to suffer from migraines. Yes, they can be extremely debilitating, annoying, and overall just frustrating to have because they can slow you down. Trust me I know. I used to blame my headaches for everything.
Educate yourselves and get in tune with your body. Know your triggers. This is what made such a huge difference for me. Once I started to become proactive in my health, I have noticed my episodes don’t last as long and I get them less frequently.
Read up on migraines because science is constantly changing. Get help and get treated.
As always, I’m happy to answer any questions via email at firstname.lastname@example.org