Migraine pain and symptoms affect approximately 39 million Americans, making it the most common form of disabling headache and the 3rd most prevalent illness in the world. A migraine is typically an intense, throbbing headache accompanied by a combination of other symptoms. These other symptoms can vary from person to person, and even from episode to episode. Any one of these symptoms can be bad enough on its own, but migraine sufferers must cope with many at the same time.
Most people may not realize how incapacitating and serious a migraine episode can be. This can partially be attributed to the fact that those who don’t suffer from the condition may think that a migraine is just a very bad headache. The truth is that a migraine is much more than a bad headache – it is actually a neurological disease with extremely debilitating neurological symptoms.
Migraine Symptoms by the Numbers
The symptoms of a migraine episode vary from person to person with some symptoms being far more likely to experience than others:
- 85% experience throbbing or pulsating head pain
- 80% have a sensitivity to light
- 76% are sensitive to sound
- 73% experience nausea
- 59% report that their pain is located on one side of their head
- 44% have changes to their vision, including blurred vision
- 36% experience aura prior to the start of the headache phase
- 29% experience vomiting
Other symptoms of a migraine that affect many sufferers include:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Neck pain
- Sensitivity to smell
For many sufferers, these symptoms add up to significantly diminish day-to-day quality of life. More than 90% of migraine sufferers report that they are unable to work or function normally during their attack, which can last anywhere between 4 and 72 hours.
What’s Causing My Migraines?
The whole truth is that the mechanism behind migraines is not understood in its entirety. One thing that is generally agreed upon is that changes within the brain are a contributing factor. The brainstem, which sits at the very top of the spinal cord at its junction with the brain, interacts with the trigeminal nerve, a major pain pathway. Changes in the way these structures communicate may be involved with migraines. Imbalances in brain chemicals, such as serotonin, may also be a factor. Serotonin, which drops in levels during a migraine attack, plays a large part in your nervous system’s ability to regulate pain.
There are certain factors that can trigger an attack. Some migraine sufferers are able to identify and subsequently avoid things that they know will cause an episode. Other triggers, such as environmental factors, are not as easily avoided. Keeping a log or migraine journal can help to pin down things that are potentially triggering your attacks:
- Changes in sleep habits, such as a lack of sleep or sleeping too much
- Weather changes
- Stress or anxiety, or coming down from a stressful situation
- Tyramine-containing foods – aged cheeses, smoked meats or fish, and certain wines
- Hormone fluctuations in women during their menstrual cycle
- Skipping meals
- Strong odors, bright or flashing lights, and loud noises
- Caffeine – either too much or withdrawal from
- Foods that contain nitrates, like lunch meats and hot dogs
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
Managing Migraine Symptoms Naturally
An increasing number of migraine sufferers are looking for natural remedies for their condition. A great start might include ensuring a regular sleep cycle (going to bed and waking up at the same time each day), cutting out food additives like MSG, and using stress-management techniques like meditation. Taking the next step involves digging a little deeper to try and identify the root cause of your migraines.
Migraines and the health of your neck are connected in many ways. Since current research points at brain and brainstem changes as being one of the possible causes of migraines, looking to that area for a potential cause only makes sense. The vertebrae of your upper cervical spine form a protective ring around the brainstem. This area is also designed to have a wide range of motion to give us the ability to move our head around freely. This leaves the upper cervical spine vulnerable to misaligning, whether by accident, injury, or wear and tear.
An upper cervical misalignment can put pressure on the brainstem and prevent its normal function. It can also cause limitations on normal blood flow between the head and neck. Drainage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the head can also be impacted. With all of these negative factors resulting from a misalignment of the upper neck, ensuring proper alignment is a key step in ensuring that your central nervous system is operating optimally.
Upper cervical chiropractic care is a chiropractic subspecialty that focuses exclusively on this area of the spine. Upper cervical care has seen great success in reducing the severity and frequency of migraine episodes for many people. Some of the benefits of upper cervical chiropractic care are that the adjustments themselves are extremely gentle and precise, and are given only when needed. To find out if upper cervical care can help you to achieve natural, lasting relief from migraines, schedule a no-obligation consultation with a practitioner in your community.