When your head hurts, every thing sucks. Anyone who's ever had a migraine knows how debilitating they can be.
You can tell your throbbing noggin's a migraine, as opposed to a cluster headache or hangover, by the way light and noise - or anything, really - become agents of torture. Another giveaway is nausea or vomiting.
Migraines also tend to be one-sided as they bang away at your skull. Many folks just lock themselves in a dark room and suffer. Way more women than men get these beasts, and if you're unlucky they can strike once a month or more. Consequently, sufferers are always hunting for relief.
Weirdly, Botox is gaining popularity as a treatment. It's a temporary solution and not FDA-approved, but a lot of people find it helpful. Others are naturally put off by the idea of having a neurotoxin injected into their heads.
Beyond that, there's a whole slew of treatments that may or may not bring relief. It's one of those trial-and-error things. Note that heavy-duty painkillers can have serious side effects.
What the experts say
"Migraines are really a tremendous disability and not given the attention they warrant as a real disease. They're actually probably a brain disease that may involve gender, hormonal and genetic issues. A disturbance of brain function triggers the migraine effect. Trigger factors can include stress, certain foods, wine, weather or hormonal changes. For pain you can simply use ASA , acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories . If they don't work, we go on to the triptans . Some evidence shows early treatment is important. We're wondering whether persistent migraines can lead to changes in the brain or even stroke. If you have several per month, we might look at a preventative agent, which can include anti-epileptic agents or a sort of beta blocker . Some studies suggest natural remedies such as high doses of vitamin B2 , feverfew , magnesium sulphate and co-enzyme Q may be effective. People also suggest relaxation , hypnotherapy , mindfulness . Acupuncture and physiotherapy may have some benefit."
Allan Gordon , director, Wasser Pain Management Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto
"Many different foods can trigger migraines, including wheat and dairy, chocolate, wine, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, fermented foods. Food sensitivity testing or an elimination diet may be helpful. Hypoglycemia and not eating frequently enough might also be factors. There is often a relationship between the digestive, nervous and vascular systems. Probiotics are a good place to start. Butterbur root (Petasites hybridus) is very effective in dealing with the frequency, intensity and duration of migraine attacks. Homeopathy is especially effective for the acute onset of migraines. A classic [treatment] is belladonna , mainly for right-sided migraines that begin in the occiput (back of head) and progress to the right forehead or eye. There is intense, throbbing pain. Hands and feet may feel icy."
Zorana Rose , naturopath, Toronto
"Acupuncture and herbs work really well. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, it's often liver yang rising with a base of something like liver yin deficiency or blood deficiency. There's usually a mix of excess and deficiency. Often, people with migraines have difficultly saying no and don't prioritize well. They run themselves ragged so the body says, 'Okay, forget it. I'm just shutting you down.' I find if you don't deal with that underlying issue and learn to say no, anything else is just a quick fix."
Kaleb Montgomery , doctor of Chinese medicine, Toronto
"We try to get the cranial system to get hold of any anatomical or physiological imbalance to rebalance the system. There are many different causes of migraine. There is a hereditary component, so of course you have to do a history and ascertain whether it's genetic or maybe due to toxins in the diet or from other sources. There are more controversial potential causes, like inoculations. One thing you can try is to put two tennis balls in a sock, place them at the two points at the very base of the skull, then lie flat on the floor . This addresses the movement of the craniosacral system and begins to ask it to check itself."
Diana Griffin , craniosacral therapist, Toronto