Migraines are perhaps one of the most misunderstood health conditions. Most people don’t realize that migraines are a neurological disorder that can be incapacitating for those who suffer from them. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraines are the 3rd most prevalent and 6th most disabling illness in the world and over 1 billion people are affected worldwide.
Inconsistencies when it comes to understanding the condition can cause migraines sufferers to feel isolated or, even worse, not get the care they need to start feeling better and regaining their quality of life. It’s time to debunk some of the most common myths circulating about what living with migraines is really like.
Myth #1: A migraine attack is just a really bad headache
To the outside observer, it might seem like a migraine is simply a severe headache. However, the headache associated with a migraine episode is just one of many phases and symptoms that a person moves through. It is true that the headache phase of a migraine can be the most excruciating, but a migraine is comprised of many other symptoms, including:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme sensitivity to touch, smells, sounds, and light
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Visual changes (known as aura)
- Depression or anxiety
- Severe fatigue
- Cognitive changes (brain fog)
- Numbness/tingling in the face, arms, or legs
- Duration of 4 to 72 hours
Myth #2: It’s not a migraine if you don’t get an aura before
The truth is that only 25%-30% of migraine sufferers will move through the aura phase before the headache arises. For those who do experience aura, it can appear as flashes of light, zig-zags, wavy lines, blurry vision, and other visual disturbances. It is often the aura that will serve as a telltale sign that an attack is looming. The aura phase can last up to an hour before the episode progresses.
Myth #3: Migraines only affect women
This myth can be an easy one to mistake for truth since migraines disproportionately affect women. Although approximately 85% of chronic migraine sufferers are women and three times as many women as men experience migraines as adults, men and even children most certainly do live with the condition. This myth is particularly dangerous since it can lead men away from a proper diagnosis or cause migraines to go undiagnosed entirely. Before puberty, boys actually experience migraines more frequently than girls. Half of migraine sufferers had their first episode before the age of 12 and migraines have even been reported in children as young as 18 months.
Myth #4: Diet and lifestyle changes can prevent migraines
Migraines can have many triggers, and a big misunderstanding is that they can simply be eliminated so that a person can experience permanent relief. It is true that some migraine sufferers can identify certain foods or habits that act as triggers (I.e. having a glass of red wine or exposure to strong perfume). Some easy changes that migraine sufferers can make are identifying these potential triggers and doing their best to avoid or eliminate them. However, it’s not always that simple, as the majority of known migraine triggers are beyond any individual’s control. Migraines can be provoked by environmental factors such as bright sunlight, changes in humidity or barometric pressure, and thunderstorms. Foods can have hidden additives and changes in your daily schedule such as air travel can all be contributing factors that a migraine sufferer just needs to cope with.
Myth #5: Migraines start and end when the headache begins and goes away
A migraine episode has its beginnings hours if not days before the actual headache appears. There are two migraine phases that can occur before the onset of the headache. The prodrome phase, which can cause mood changes, food cravings, heightened sensitivity to light and sound, sleep disturbances, nausea and more can begin several hours to a few days prior to the headache. The aura phase that, for some, follows the prodrome can last for up to an hour. The throbbing headache of a migraine episode can also last from a few hours up to 3 days and is followed by the postdrome phase (often called the migraine hangover) that can linger another 24-48 hours.
Myth #6: Migraines are just a temporary nuisance that doesn’t spill over into everyday life
Because of the unpredictable and potentially chronic nature of their condition, migraine sufferers often experience a marked decrease in their quality of life. Living with migraines can affect a person’s ability to hold down a job, remain independent, have a healthy social life, and spend quality time with family. Living with migraines can also be a huge financial burden with an estimated 70% increase in healthcare costs for families affected. Migraine sufferers can also be at a higher risk of developing other health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Myth #7: Drugs are the only effective migraine treatment
Medications might be the most common recommendation for migraine sufferers but they are certainly not the only option. In fact, the biggest reason why episodic migraines turn chronic is due to medication overuse. Aside from drugs, there are other care options available that can help reduce the frequency and severity of episodes:
- Stress management – journaling, meditation, yoga, music, relaxing in a warm bath, etc.
- Sticking to a regular sleep-wake cycle, even on weekends and vacations
- Massage therapy
- Essential oils (peppermint and ginger)
- Supplements – butterbur, feverfew, magnesium, B-complex
- Stay well hydrated
- Upper cervical chiropractic care
Migraines and the Health of Your Neck
For migraine sufferers, the fact that the neck is a contributing factor doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Many people living with migraines have a history of head or neck injury and pain at the very top of the neck just underneath the base of the skull is the site where many episodes originate. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a very specific branch of chiropractic that is especially well-suited to care for migraine patients. Our focus is on the uppermost vertebra in the neck, the atlas, as it forms a critical junction between the head and neck. Proper alignment of this part of the spine is essential – an atlas misalignment can have a negative impact on central nervous system function, blood flow between the head and neck, and normal drainage of cerebrospinal fluid.
If an atlas misalignment goes uncorrected, it can compromise your body’s ability to self-regulate, leading to migraine-causing conditions. The benefits of the upper cervical chiropractic approach are many, and for migraine sufferers, our ability to make precise, gentle corrections that are designed to hold in place for maximum stability can be the first step towards regaining a better quality of life. Reach out to a practitioner in your community to schedule a consultation – upper cervical chiropractic care has been a natural, lasting solution for many migraine sufferers and it has the potential to help you too.
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