MIGRAINES can be blindingly painful…and yet they’re not taken that seriously by people who don’t suffer them.
Lots of folk just think they’re really bad headaches and use the term to describe hangovers.
But a migraine is so much more than a headache. The World Health Organisation has classified migraine as one of the 20 most disabling lifetime conditions, with attacks affecting how we see, smell, hear and feel.
Around 6 million of us here in the UK suffer from migraines, with women being more at risk than men.
With that in mind, nutritionist Hannah Braye has been clearing up a few migraine myths:
Myth 1: Migraines are just bad headaches
Migraines are headaches, true… but they’re so much more than that.
The pain is a million times worse and tends to start only on one side of the head.
Some people also get other symptoms besides blistering pain too.
Myth 2: Painkillers are best to manage migraines
How many of us have tried a cocktail of painkillers at the onset of a migraine, even though they feel as if they do nothing?
In fact, according to an All-Party Parliamentary Group report on the subject, less than 50 per cent of sufferers are satisfied with current treatments and so self-medicate with over-the-counter pain killers.
However, that can lead to potential overuse and rebound headaches.
If you use anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen too often, you run the risk of damaging the health of your gut lining – contributing to leaky gut, which in turn, can make you more susceptible to migraine. It’s a vicious circle!
Too much paracetamol, on the other hand, can be toxic to your liver which is responsible for detoxifying the body.
So while painkillers can be useful occasionally, it’s really not a good idea to rely on them.
You’re much better off trying to get to the root cause of your migraine rather than just masking the symptoms.
Myth 3: It’s only a migraine if you experience aura
Aura is a term used to describe a neurological symptom that often happens right before you get the headache.
The most common aura tends to be to do with visual problems, but The Migraine Trust says that attacks can also include tingling, pins and needles, weakness on one side of the body, dizziness, vertigo, trouble talking, hearing and memory.
Although aura is often talked about, up to only around 30 per cent of migraine sufferers ever experience aura.
Myth 4: All migraines are alike
Every migraine you have is different – and each migraine sufferer will experience migraines in their own unique way.
When some people get them, they’ll just have the excruciating headache, while others may also get upset stomachs or sensitivity to light, noise, movement or smell.
Kids often don’t have a headache at all – they just feel sick or dizzy.
Myth 5: There’s nothing that can be done about migraines, you just have to live with them
Imagine how depressing it would be if that was true.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with migraines and some people do have attacks which seem to be really resistant to treatment.
But that’s why you’ve got to look into what else is going on with your health.
Making sure that you’re getting all the nutrients you needs, that your gut health is good, you’re managing stress effectively and that you’re getting enough sleep, are all incredibly important.
Myth 6: Gut health doesn’t have an impact on migraines
If you’re starting to think that the gut has a role to play in a tonne of different chronic illnesses, then you’d be correct.
There’s a clear association between suffering from migraines and having other digestive disorders like IBS, irritable bowel disease, coeliac and gastro-oesophageal reflux.
And that’s because low levels of good gut bacteria can lead to “leaky gut” – a risk factor for inflammation.
That low-grade, chronic inflammation can then start to affect the major pain pathways of the brain, which triggers migraine attacks.
Scientists have recently found that live bacteria supplements may help, with a recent trial finding that the 14 strains of live bacteria present in Bio-Kult Migréa significantly reduced both episodic and chronic migraine frequency and severity in as little as eight weeks.
6 ways to manage a migraine
Nutritional therapist Hannah Braye says that although there’s no one clear cause or solution, there are a few things you can do to help manage the problem:
1. Improve gut health
Scientists believe that low-grade inflammation originating from poor gut health may contribute to inflammation of major pain pathways in the brain, triggering migraine attacks.
A recent clinical trial found that the 14 strains of live bacteria in Bio-Kult Migréa (£19.99 from Amazon) significantly reduced both episodic and chronic migraine frequency and severity and reliance on medication in as little as 8 weeks.
It also contains magnesium and B6 both of which contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system, and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue (which often accompany migraine attacks).
2. Reduce stress
Stress is the factor listed most often by migraine sufferers as a trigger for their attacks.
Carving out time for yourself to relax, for example by having a bath, reading a book, spending time outdoors or re-engaging with hobbies and friends should also be prioritised.
3. Practice mindfulness
Yes, it sounds a bit wellness whacko, but mindfulness has been shown to be really effective at controlling headaches.
A 2018 review of the evidence from 10 different clinical trials found that mindfulness meditation may reduce pain intensity and is a promising treatment option for patients, with an 8-week course having a significant positive effect.
Download a mindfulness app like Headspace onto your phone, or look into whether any mindfulness courses are being run in your area.
4. Improve your diet
You are what you eat, and there is some evidence to suggest that certain mineral deficiencies may make attacks more likely.
Make sure that you’re getting enough magnesium from leafy green veg, avocados, nuts, seeds and beans, and that you’re keeping processed grub and sugar to a minimum.
You may also want to keep a food diary to see if any particular foods set you off.
5. Exercise gently
Some moderate cardio may help to manage pain, so it’s worth giving a go.
Being overweight or obese is also thought to be a risk factor for migraine, so keeping active should help with tath too.
6. Know the warning signs
Migraines tend to have warning signs ahead of time. These can include emotional changes, stiff neck, needing to pee more and fluid retention.
Once you’ve clocked what your warning signs are, make sure that you go home from work to rest in a quiet room, drink plenty of water, eat regularly and take it easy.
Myth 7: Migraine is a psychological condition
Before you tell anyone that their pain is “all in the mind” or that they’ve manifested the pain themselves, migraine is a genuine neurological disease.
It’s caused by a part of the brain responsible for pain dysfunction, and attacks are triggered by physiological – not psychological triggers.
That means something physical makes the blood vessels dilate – reducing blood pressure in the brain.
It’s the same kind of condition as asthma or high blood pressure which you have in the long term but which can be triggered by certain outside forces.
For some reason, many think of it as being a mental health issue and it really isn’t.
Myth 8: There is a ‘stressed/neurotic’ migraine personality type
Which leads us on to the idea that you can “tell” the sort of person who’d suffer from migraine.
Although stress reduction can help deal with a migraine attack, there’s no personality that’s more likely to suffer from them – whether you’re a stressed out, anxious kind of person or a bold and assertive character.
In the past, doctors have suggested that migraine sufferers are highly-strung, perfectionist worriers.
That can be dangerous because there’s a load more besides stress that factors into why people have migraine attacks, and suggesting that only a certain personality is vulnerable may stop others from seeking help.
Myth 9: If you suffer from migraines you should/shouldn’t exercise
There’s a lot of mixed opinion around whether you should work out or not.
Some believe that vigorous exercise can trigger an attack, while others believe that regular movement can help.
In a way, both are correct.
There is evidence to suggest that gentle-to-moderate exercise can be beneficial in migraine management by helping to decrease the intensity of the pain…but intense exercise can trigger an attack.
You’re best off making sure that you exercise only when you feel rested, you’ve warmed up properly, eaten enough and are well hydrated.
Myth 10: Migraine is just down to genetics
There is some evidence to suggest that genes play a role, but scientists believe that things like diet, lifestyle and other environmental factors also play a hugely important role in some cases.
If you’re low on magnesium, for example, that may contribute to attacks (particularly around your period).
Migraines are also linked to inflammation and being overweight.
Studies have found that losing weight can help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine attacks.
Myth 11: Men and women are equally at risk from migraines
Migraines are more common in women than in men, with 14 in every 100 women and seven in every 100 men having recurring migraines.
MORE ON HEALTH
In kids, they’re equally common between the sexes.
The difference in adults is thought to be down to changing ovarian hormonal levels at different times of the month.
Women who suffer from menstrual migraines might find that getting help with regulating their hormonal balance may ease their symptoms.
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