If you get migraine headaches, you should know about the different things you can do at home to treat them. A migraine is a powerful headache that often happens with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light (1).
Migraine is a disabling neurological disorder considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the 19th leading cause of all years lived with disability among both males and females of all ages (2).
Migraine headaches are also the 12th leading cause of years lived with disability among females of all ages, according to WHO.
When you get a migraine attack, it can last from 4 hours to 3 days, and sometimes much longer. It is estimated that one out of seven people suffers from migraines. That’s a total of about one billion migraine headache sufferers globally (3).
Of this number, three out of four Americans who suffer from migraines are women. Most people start having migraine headaches between the ages of 10 and 40. However, if you’re a woman, your migraines will likely improve or disappear after age 50.
The severity of your migraine headaches varies. It can range from a single, intense event to a series of frequent, annoying occurrences that can be debilitating at times.
One explanation for this is that with each of your migraine headaches or events, you have an inflammatory reaction. This is partly because your migraine illness affects not only your nerve cells but also the adjacent blood vessels and your immune system (4).
Causes of migraine headaches
A migraine is more than a headache. It is a complicated neurologic condition that affects many parts of your nervous system (5). If you have migraine headaches, this means that your nervous system is not working normally.
Your nervous system sometimes overreacts to certain stimuli. When this happens and your nervous system is stimulated, an unusual wave of brain activity causes headaches. You may also experience many non-headache symptoms, like nausea and vomiting.
If this happens, you will begin to notice strange sensations, such as white sparks in your eye, followed by intense pain in certain areas of your head. Then you’ll have a long period of nausea and exhaustion.
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Migraine headaches affect more women than men
Migraine headaches seem to occur more if you’re a woman than it does in men. This may have to do with women’s menstrual cycle (6).
These headaches have been known to create a huge burden on work productivity, personal enjoyment of life, and relationships. Migraine symptoms are known to affect young boys and girls at the same rate.
With the onset of puberty, you’re three times more likely to suffer from migraines if you’re a female than if you’re a male. However, as you reach menopause, your hormonal fluctuations shift the balance of your symptoms from migraine headaches to feelings of:
- body aches
- facial and ear pressure
- sleep disorders and
Triggers of your migraine headaches
Sometimes specific internal or external stimuli can cause headaches. These are called triggers. If you can identify what your triggers are, a valuable way to control your migraine headaches is to avoid them. Sometimes your migraine symptoms may even occur spontaneously, without any triggers.
The main migraine headache triggers include:
If you drink red wine or champagne, it can trigger migraine attacks. The headache is caused by an amino acid known as tyramine, which is found in fermented liquors in red wines.
If you’re taking birth control pills that have high levels of estrogen or you’re on hormone replacement therapy, this can make your migraines worse. Migraines may also increase in the first trimester of pregnancy due to hormonal changes. However, the symptoms will improve in the later trimesters of your pregnancy.
Getting too much caffeine or withdrawing from it can give you migraine headaches when the level of caffeine in your body abruptly drops. If you’re a habitual coffee drinker, your blood vessels seem to get used to caffeine.
Therefore, when you don’t have any coffee, you may get a headache as a sign of withdrawal. Incidentally, caffeine itself can also be used as a treatment for acute migraine attacks.
If you do an intense or sudden exercise, this can initiate a headache if you’re a migraine sufferer. Whenever you exercise, engage in routine, moderate exercise. This will reduce the frequency of your headaches.
Blows to the head
Blows to the head, as well as concussions, can also be migraine triggers.
Changes in weather conditions
The following conditions have been associated with the onset of migraine attacks:
- storm fronts
- strong winds
- seasonal changes
- changes in altitude
- changes in weather conditions such as barometric pressure changes.
Sensory stimuli that may trigger your migraine headaches include the following:
- medications (decongestants, pain remedies containing caffeine)
- tobacco smoke
- excessive or repetitive noises
- bright or flickering lights or flashing lights
- high altitudes.
When you’re stressed, your brain usually releases certain chemicals that can cause changes in your blood vessels. These changes can lead to a migraine attack.
Other stressors that can trigger your migraines include:
- missing meals
- intense or strenuous activity or exercise
- abnormal sleep habits (lack of sleep or irregular sleep)
- jet lag.
Foods and food ingredients
Avoiding the foods that aggravate your migraine headaches is your best option if you suffer from migraine headaches. For you to consider a certain food to be a trigger, the food must’ve triggered your migraine-related symptom(s) within 24 hours of you consuming it. It must also do so more than half the time that you consumed the food (7).
Certain foods are known migraine headache triggers for some people.
- aged cheese
- fermented, smoked, or pickled foods (pickles, pickled herring, and other fish, olives, chicken liver).
- cured meats, including hot dogs, bacon, ham, salami, sausage, bologna, and pepperoni.
- food additives like nitrates found in pepperoni, lunch meats, and hot dogs. Also, monosodium glutamate (MSG). These additives may be responsible for up to 30% of migraines. MSG is a flavor enhancer found often in food from Chinese restaurants. Many Chinese foods, soy sauce, meat tenderizers, seasoned salt, and ‘Accent’ all contain MSG (8).
Food additives are chemicals that are added to certain foods to cure or preserve them. Some of them irritate your nervous system and trigger migraine attacks.
If you constantly suffer from migraine headaches and you think they might be caused by food, it’s a good idea to keep a symptom diary. What you eat, your menstrual cycle, physical activities, and changes in the environment or weather should all be recorded in your diary.
This record will be a valuable tool for identifying your migraine triggers. When you notice a pattern, you can try to avoid the things that seem to set off your migraines.
Is there a cure for your migraine?
Unfortunately, migraine is a health condition that lacks a specific diagnostic test, and there’s no cure for it. It is a chronic condition that is best managed through prevention and interventional measures.
Migraines are very personal, meaning that there’s no one treatment plan that works for everyone. If you suffer from migraine headaches, there are two approaches to getting relief:
1. By treating the symptoms when they occur (acute intervention).
2. Use of preventive medications. Your doctor may give you daily medication to be taken, to reduce the intensity or frequency of your symptoms. These are known as preventive or prophylactic medications.
Home remedies to help prevent migraines
If you experience migraines, you already know they’re not typical headaches. They come with profound pounding pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.
It is one of the most unpleasant experiences one can have. I know this because I suffer from migraines. Rather than have acute migraine attacks, it’s best to find ways to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Natural remedies for migraine are drug-free options that will help reduce your migraine symptoms. They typically work better as long-term practices to prevent migraine headaches from occurring.
The following are some of the best preventive home remedies to reduce the frequency of your migraine headaches, or at least reduce their severity and duration.
Drink water and stay hydrated
A study reported in the New York Times suggested that dehydration can increase your risk of having migraine headaches (9). It is therefore important that you stay well-hydrated and reduce your risk of attacks.
To stay adequately hydrated, it is recommended that men drink about 13 cups of liquid a day. This should be from water, juice, and other sources.
Women should drink about 9 cups of water per day. When you have a migraine, drinking more water will help both the length and severity of the attack.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is found in nuts, dairy, eggs, and fortified cereals. In doses of 400 milligrams a day, vitamin B2 can help prevent migraines and headaches (10). You may have to adjust the dosage because vitamin B2 may make you urinate more often. It may also make your urine darker in color.
Magnesium is found in foods such as leafy green vegetables, eggs, and nuts. Magnesium can help stop migraines caused by your period if you take 400 to 600 milligrams of it every day.
It also helps prevent other migraine headaches associated with auras. The disadvantage of taking magnesium is that it may cause diarrhea if you take too much of it.
You may purchase Vitamin B2 or magnesium supplements in stores or online if you feel like you’re not getting enough of them in your diet.
Maintain a consistent sleep routine
Too little or too much sleep can trigger migraine attacks. If you suffer from migraines, you should adopt a habit of going to sleep and waking up at about the same time every day.
Practicing yoga might help prevent your migraines by reducing your stress levels and improving your circulation.
Avoid food triggers
Understand your food triggers and avoid them. On the flip side, there are certain foods that might help you. Diets high in omega-3 and omega-6 might be of help to you (11).
These are found in healthy fats such as salmon and vegetable oil. They’re also found in leafy green vegetables. They can help with your migraines.
Acupressure and acupuncture
Acupressure and acupuncture are methods used to stimulate acupoints in your body. Acupuncture is a practice in traditional Chinese medicine that involves placing hair-thin needles at certain points across your body to stimulate your acupoints (12).
Acupressure on the other hand is the practice of applying firm pressure with the fingers and hands to massage specific points on your body to relieve pain and other symptoms.
Home remedies that help to relieve acute migraine headaches
Severe migraines usually require that you take prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medication. If you don’t already have one, talk to your doctor about a treatment plan that will work best for you.
Finding an effective migraine treatment is all about figuring out what works for you. Most of the time, you may be able to get some relief from your migraines by taking both prescription drugs and home remedies.
Here are home remedies that you can try during an actual migraine attack. They should help to relieve your migraine headache and pain.
When it comes to treating migraine headaches, caffeine acts as a double-edged sword. It helps to treat the symptoms of your migraine headaches, and it can also act as a triggering agent.
Caffeine can help stop your migraine after it has started by acting on the blood flow in your brain. It is a constituent in some over-the-counter medications for pain and headache.
Conversely, caffeine can also trigger headaches in some people. If you consume caffeine excessively, it can cause a rebound headache, making your existing headache worse.
Fresh ginger and ginger capsules
Ginger is a common home remedy often used to treat nausea and upset stomachs (13). If you usually have nausea with your migraines, or if nausea is a side effect of your migraine medication, take ginger to help soothe your stomach.
You can find fresh ginger and ginger tea in your grocery store. Alternatively, you may purchase ginger powder or capsules at a health store or online.
Taking 300 milligrams of CoEnzyme Q10 every day has proven to be effective in reducing head pain (14).
There are claims that fish oil reduces inflammation. It works by restricting the blood vessels in your temples (15). Take them to relieve migraine headaches.
Butterbur or Petasites is a plant that is grown in Germany. Extensive studies have shown that pills made from butterbur have been proven to be very effective in treating migraine pain and asthma symptoms(16).
It also helps to alleviate upset stomachs. So far, it is said to be the most effective natural medicine for migraine symptoms. Butterbur is safe and can only be purchased online.
Avoid strong smells
Strong smells are a common migraine trigger, and they tend to make your headache worse. Strong odors, like perfumes, pungent foods, gasoline, and other chemical smells, can make a migraine attack worse once it’s started. Avoiding them once you feel a migraine coming will be very helpful.
Stay in a dark, quiet room
One of the simplest ways to manage your migraine once it’s started is to lie down in a dark, quiet room. Because a common migraine symptom is a sensitivity to bright lights and sounds, it is important that you go into a dark, quiet room to rest.
Tie a headband around your head
This is a practice that has been done for a very long time. It’s not certain how it came about, but some people claim it works. During a migraine headache, tying a headband around your head may help ease a throbbing headache.
Hot or cold compress
Many migraine sufferers swear by this remedy (17). Applying different variations of heat and cold to your body will help to relieve a migraine headache. A common practice is to immerse your feet in hot water and put an ice pack around the base of your neck and your temples.
Some people report the exact opposite as being helpful in treating their migraine symptoms. They swear by using heating pads on their necks, warm cloth across their faces, and even standing in hot water in the shower. Remember, don’t fall asleep with your heating pads on. Also, make sure the showers aren’t so scalding that they burn you.
The menthol in peppermint oil may stop your migraine from coming on. Applying peppermint oil solution to your forehead and temples will help stop a migraine as it’s starting (18). You may also rub the oil on the part of your head that hurts.
If you’re a migraine headache sufferer, you know how challenging it is to cope with its debilitating symptoms. Migraine attacks can cause you to miss work, school, or participate in important events and activities.
It’s important that you try these remedies and find out which ones work for you by preventing migraine episodes or relieving acute symptoms.