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Tackle That Migraine Head On

By Edited Jun 17, 2015 3 4

What to Do When You Have a Migraine

I do have a headache
Credit: Jay Aremac on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

My Headache Story

In my teens, I suffered some bad headaches, especially around my forehead and temples. So, I'd take a pain reliever (usually aspirin) and within half an hour I felt okay. They seemed to be related to stress, hormonal changes, and not enough sleep.

When I was active in sports, I'd sometimes feel pain at the back of my head - I coined these "motion" headaches. (Not to be confused with motion sickness, though, the back of my head was sore and my neck was pretty stiff).

It was later on in my 20's that I began to get these one-sided throbbing headaches. I'm in my 40's now and I still suffer them. About 90 percent of the time, they affect the left side of my head. And they are brutal.

See Your Doctor and Get a Diagnosis

Headaches Can Be a Sign of Other Conditions

Credit: Avenue G on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Follow Your Doctor's Advice

And Fill Any Prescription (Before Your Next Migraine)

NOTE: Some prescription medications and herbal remedies suggest dosing even on days you are feeling fine. I have not gone that route. My article is about non-prescription treatments for migraines - when you feel one coming on.

First of all, take medication at the first sign of a migraine. I've managed my migraines for 20 years with only OTC (over-the-counter) medications. I used to think I could wait it out and see if I could cope without pills.

Problem is, once my migraine developed, it had to "burn itself off" (as my family doctor would say). This generally took 10 - 12 hours (and any pain killers I took during this time had minimal effect on it).

Secondly, caffeine boosts the effectiveness of OTC pain killers,[3] so try and have even 1/2 a cup of coffee (along with a full glass of water) when you take it. In fact, caffeine has shown to increase the effectiveness of pain killers by 40 percent.[1] 
If you can tolerate it (and it's right for you) Tylenol #1 has some codeine in it - this has helped me a bit more than just regular Tylenol. I can no longer tolerate ASA (acetylsalicylic acid) and Ibuprofen-type pain killers, since I've had digestive problems with them. But back in the day, Anacin was my migraine pain killer of choice.
Ibuprofen and ASA-type pain killers have an anti-inflammatory effect (which helps with migraine pain) and yet I read a few years ago that acetaminophen does too[2] (albeit not as much).[4]

The Weather Connection

Lightning Appears to Be a Big Factor

Eclairs | Lightning
Credit: Thomas Bresson | ComputerHotline on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Stormy Weather on the Way?

Plan Those Noisy Parties Another Day

I firmly believe there is a connection between my migraines and the weather - particularly if a storm is approaching. I believe the rapid changes in barometric pressure are the reason. My man-servant actually relied on my migraines to predict a storm (more than he trusted the weather person on the local news).

This is the pattern I notice: if a low pressure system is moving into our area quickly, I think internal pressure inside my head (sinuses) doesn't adjust fast enough. This, in turn, causes some cranial nerves to be pressed on and so begins my migraine. (However, I feel migraines are usually caused by a few factors, not just one).

Just last year, I read an article by C. Claiborne Ray in The New York Times in which Neurologist-in-Chief, Dr. Matthew Fink confirmed this stating, "Low barometric pressure can cause headaches by creating a pressure difference between the surrounding atmosphere and the sinuses, which are filled with air."[5]

And a few months ago, on CNN Health, an article by Erinn Bucklan caught my eye. Titled Do headaches worsen with weather? her report stated that a new study in the journal Cephalagia[7] revealed a "28% increased risk of migraine on days when lightning struck within 25 miles of a sufferer's home."[6]

Bottom line: Check the weather report and plan ahead for a migraine. (I've postponed children's parties and was glad I did).

Diadumenos by Polyclitus Reminds Me

To Don My Cold Head Wrap and Stretch My Neck

Youth binding his hair (Diadumenos)
Credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Medi-Temp Head-Neck Hot/Cold Therapy Pad

Medi-Temp Head-Neck Hot/Cold Therapy Pad RoseWrites 2014-03-26 5.0 0 5

My Best Friend When I Have a Migraine

Medi-Temp Head-Neck Hot/Cold Therapy Pad
Amazon Price: $15.95 $7.19 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 17, 2015)
I still have my original Medi-Temp cold pad (and it's 20 years old). It's the most durable cold pack I've ever owned (cheaper ones tend to split open). This brand also retains enough flexibility to be wrapped nice and snug around my head. The Velcro on the sleeve has become a little lax, so I use a legging from an old pair of nylons to tie around it which helps keep it in place. The width is just right, if you cover too much of your head (with wider ones) it can get pretty sweaty under there. The cold pad is vacuum-packed in a double laminated, one-piece pouch. I sometimes turn it around on my head, so I find it's ideal to have one long solid piece to wrap.

My Family Doctor Taught Me This Stretch

Still have that headache
Credit: manitou2121 on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Here's How to Do It

1) Sitting straight up, put one hand under your same-side thigh.

2) With your free hand, place it behind your head.

3) Slowly and gently pull your head forward and turn it slowly until your chin is pointing towards your axilla (armpit). Repeat as needed and switch to stretch the other side of your neck. 

The Migraine Brain: Your Breakthrough Guide to Fewer Headaches, Better Health

The Migraine Brain: Your Breakthrough Guide to Fewer Headaches, Better Health RoseWrites 2014-03-26 4.5 0 5

The Migraine Brain

Your Breakthrough Guide to Fewer Headaches, Better Health

The Migraine Brain: Your Breakthrough Guide to Fewer Headaches, Better Health
Amazon Price: $8.99 $3.49 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 17, 2015)
Dr. Carolyn Bernstein, a neurologist, is the clinical director of the Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians' Comprehensive Headache Center (at Harvard's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center) in Boston. Elaine McArdle is an award-winning journalist and lawyer. Both have suffered from migraines and they've combined their education, expertise, and experience to write the most comprehensive guide about preventing and treating migraine headaches.


Mar 27, 2014 10:54am
Good information. I once had horrible migraines, although it was a side effect from medications I used to take. Excedrin was one of the only medicines that reduced them. I'll forever feel very sorry for migraine sufferers. One point you discussed I've never heard, and it's what you said about changes in barometric pressure. It makes perfect sense though.
Mar 27, 2014 11:44am
Yeah, Excedrin contains acetaminophen (Tylenol), ASA (aspirin), and caffeine. In my 20's I used to take Tylenol, asa or ibuprofen with a glass of water and then chase it with a coffee. And my doctor (who also suffers migraines - similar to mine) believed long ago that rapid changes in weather are connected. "April showers May bring on migraines" is what I used to say.

The lightning connection is interesting too, Dr. Martin et al. found that negatively charged lightning currents were also associated with a higher chance of headache. The exact reasons are unknown, but the researchers also speculate that a rise in air pollutants (like ozone) can cause the release of fungal spores, esp. where lightning occurs - which may lead to migraines.
Jun 18, 2015 4:32am
Very interesting about the weather, this is the first I've heard of it related to migraines, but makes perfect sense. Many people I know with back, knee or neck problems always knew when it was going to storm.

For me, I always attributed it to hormones and lack of sleep, but will pay more attention to weather too. I use Excedrin these days, along with sleep or ice, or a combination of all three. I've started regularly going to a chiropractor again and while my other issue is resolving, I found my headaches are far less frequent now too. I used to be able to predict them like clockwork. Not so much anymore (which is a good thing!)
Great read, thumbs and sharing.
Jun 20, 2015 5:58pm
Thanks Leigh. Women do seem to suffer migraines 3 times more than men. There are a lot of factors. Glad to hear yours are getting better.
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  1. Stephanie Steinberg "What’s the Best Headache Medicine: Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil?." U.S. News | Health. 20/06/2013. 26/03/2014 <Web >
  2. Debjani Tripathy and Paula Grammas "Acetaminophen inhibits neuronal inflammation and protects neurons from oxidative stress." Journal of Neuroinflammation. 16/03/2009. 26/03/2014 <Web >
  3. Granados-Soto V. and Castañeda-Hernández G. "A review of the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic factors in the potentiation of the antinociceptive effect of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs by caffeine." PubMed.gov | U.S National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. 26/03/2014 <Web >
  4. Dr. Regina M. Botting "Mechanism of Action of Acetaminophen: Is There a Cyclooxygenase 3?." Oxford Journals | Clinical Infectious Diseases. 26/03/2014 <Web >
  5. C. Claiborne Ray "Can Barometric Pressure Cause Headaches and Other Discomforts?." The New York Times | Science. 01/07/2013. 26/03/2014 <Web >
  6. Erinn Bucklan "Do headaches worsen with weather?." CNN Health. 17/12/2013. 26/03/2014 <Web >
  7. Geoffrey V. Martin, Timothy Houle, Robert Nicholson, Albert Peterlin, and Vincent T. Martin "Lightning and its association with the frequency of headache in migraineurs: An observational cohort study." Cephalalgia Journal. 18/01/2013. 26/03/2014 <Web >

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