If you have ever experienced a migraine, you know they can devastatingly painful.
Sufferers of migraines can vary in what symptoms and migraine severity they experience, with most suffering from moderate to severe head pain during the duration of the migraine.
For anyone dealing with migraines, finding the right treatment plan and healthcare practitioner can be crucial for the management of this condition. Both traditional medicines and more physically-based treatments — like chiropractic care — can help treat and manage migraines.
In this article, we discuss what a migraine is, the different types of migraines a person can experience, and the key symptoms to watch out for during a migraine.
Keep reading to learn why chiropractic care is a promising migraine treatment.
What is a Migraine?
A migraine is a type of headache characterized by throbbing pain in the head.
Though many people often use the term “migraine” to describe severe headaches, an actual migraine can come with many symptoms beyond headache pain alone.
The symptoms of a migraine can include:
- Moderate to severe pain in the head, often clustered on one side of the head
- Sensory overload (lights seeming too bright, sounds seeming too loud, etc.)
- Stomach issues (upset stomach, nausea, abdominal cramping)
- Dizziness and blurred vision
- Tender skin, especially around the head and scalp
- Pale skin and fluctuating body temperature
In addition to the symptoms that can occur during the throes of a migraine, there are several key symptoms to watch out for in the lead-up to a migraine. For those who suffer from chronic migraines, learning these warning signs is crucial for accurately timing medication dosages to prevent a migraine.
Early symptoms of a migraine can include:
- Nausea and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability and mood swings
- Confusion or cognitive dysfunction (difficulty reading, speaking, etc.)
- Muscle stiffness
Migraines can also manifest in rarer forms, producing less common symptoms that can be alarming if you do not know they signify a migraine. These rarer types of migraines include:
- Migraines with Aura: Aura is a neurological symptom associated with migraines, seizures, and other neurological conditions. It often manifests as visual hallucinations when experienced with migraines, such as sparking lights or colorful dots appearing in your field of vision. Other symptoms of aura include confusion, hearing problems, vertigo, and double vision. As these symptoms can mimic those of more serious conditions, it is important to seek medical attention to ensure you are dealing with migraines and not a different health problem.
- Hemiplegic Migraines: Hemiplegia is a condition wherein one side of the body becomes partially or completely paralyzed. A hemiplegic migraine, thus, can include symptoms such as weakness, numbness, or paralysis of one side of the body.
- Ocular Migraines: Ocular migraines are a type of migraine where the primary symptom is visual disturbances rather than pain. Oftentimes, there is little to no head pain during an ocular migraine due to the migraine occurring within your eye rather than in your head. These migraines have many of the same sensory symptoms as migraines with aura, like flashing lights and color spots.
- Abdominal Migraines: Abdominal migraines are a type of migraine where the primary symptom is abdominal pain and stomach issues, rather than head pain. People of all ages can experience abdominal migraines but they are most commonly seen in children.
How are Migraines and Headaches Different?
It is fairly common to hear the terms “headache” and “migraine” used interchangeably.
However, the two conditions are not the same. In reality, a headache is merely one symptom of a migraine — albeit being the most common symptom to experience during a migraine.
The average person is much more likely to experience headaches throughout their lifetime than migraines. According to one Canadian clinical review, the estimated lifetime prevalence of headaches is 66%, while the lifetime prevalence of migraines is between 14% to 16%.
Additionally, the review reveals that 90% of migraine sufferers report moderate to severe pain, and 75% report impaired function. A further 33% of migraine sufferers require bed rest to recover from a migraine.
What are Chronic Migraines?
For people who suffer from migraines, a migraine generally occurs once or twice per month.
Unfortunately, a small portion of those who suffer from migraines experience chronic migraines — a condition in which you have a migraine for the majority of days throughout each month.
According to research published in Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease:
“Chronic migraine is an important treatable cause of neurological disability. It is vital to make a diagnosis and ensure that any concomitant medical or psychological conditions are treated in parallel with interventions aimed at reducing the biological tendency to headaches.”
The study further states that, though migraines tend to be incurable, they can be successfully managed with the right treatment and medication plan.
What are the Common Causes of Migraines?
When considering the reason behind your migraines, it is important to first understand the difference between a migraine’s cause and trigger.
The cause of a migraine is the underlying issue that makes a person prone to migraines, while the trigger is an event or sensory disturbance that jumpstarts a migraine. Though a trigger may be the immediate source of blame for the migraine, it is crucial to consider what other underlying causes may be at play.
For anyone dealing with migraines, it is essential to identify both the triggers and underlying causes of your migraines. By identifying your specific triggers — you can intervene with treatment and medication before the migraine has a chance to worsen. As for identifying the underlying causes of your migraines, this can be majorly helpful for seeking long-term care from a healthcare practitioner.
With this in mind, let’s cover both the common triggers and common underlying causes for migraines:
Common Migraine Triggers
When it comes to triggering a migraine, there is almost always a sensory issue to blame.
Bright lights, strange smells, and other events that overload the senses can trigger a migraine. Additionally, changes to your surroundings — such as major weather events — can also mess with your senses and ultimately trigger a migraine.
Migraine Canada reports that specific foods can be a major trigger for migraines, with research showing that between 10% to 80% of migraine sufferers have reported food as a trigger. Substances like alcohol can also be a common trigger, with 20% to 50% of sufferers citing alcohol as a trigger.
Other common migraine triggers highlighted by Migraine Canada include:
- Hunger and/or dehydration
- Low blood sugar
- Hormonal changes
- Medication changes
- Poor sleep quality or sleep cycle changes
Common Underlying Causes of Migraines
Knowing the triggers for your migraines is only one part of the equation.
To best manage your migraines and their symptoms, it is crucial to have an understanding of why you get migraines and what underlying causes are at play in your body or environment.
Common underlying causes of migraines include:
- Genetics: Migraines can be passed on genetically, making a person inherently prone to experiencing the neurological condition. Both migraines with and without aura can be passed on genetically through a person’s familial bloodline.
- Environment: Though some migraine sufferers can blame genetics, others can pinpoint environmental factors as the root cause of the issue. This encompasses many of the sensory issues that can also serve as triggers, such as bright lights and loud noises. For those sensitive to the environment, weather events like storms and pressure changes can also cause migraines.
- Lifestyle: For some people, the cause of their migraines can be traced back to their lifestyle choices. As we have discussed, things like food and alcohol can be major migraine triggers. This goes for other substances as well, such as cigarettes and recreational drugs. When lifestyle choices alone are the cause of migraines, changing your behaviors is key to preventing migraines.
- Tension or Injury: Some migraine sufferers may be experiencing the condition due to muscular tension or an injury near the spine, head, or neck. In these cases, a person’s body may need rehabilitation to treat the tension or injury, such as chiropractic care or physical training.
- Disease or Disorders: In rarer cases, there may be another underlying disease or disorder in your body that is triggering your migraines. This makes it highly important to seek medical attention when you experience migraines, especially if those migraines are occurring frequently or are classifiable as chronic (chronic migraines occur at least 15 days out of the month).
When to See a Doctor for Migraines
If you suffer from migraines, you may wonder when the right time is to seek medical attention.
In truth, even if you only suffer from a migraine every few months, it can be beneficial to let your primary care provider know. Migraines can sometimes interact or interfere with medications, such as antidepressants. Moreover, migraines with aura can indicate that a person is not compatible with certain medications, such as estrogen-containing birth control.
Considering the potential interactions with medications, seeking medical guidance from a healthcare practitioner can be essential for anyone dealing with migraines, no matter how frequent.
As for the signs to watch out for when experiencing a migraine, seek medical attention if you experience:
- Persistent moderate to severe head pain for four or more hours
- Extreme nausea or uncontrollable vomiting
- A mild to severe headache that persists longer than 72 hours
- Loss of vision or consciousness
- Confusion or memory loss
- Slurred speech and/or limb mobility problems
- Extreme dizziness and loss of balance
For anyone who regularly experiences headaches or migraines, you likely have an understanding of the scope of pain that is normal during these incidents. If the pain you experience is extreme to the point that it extends outside of this scope, this can be an indicator that it’s time to seek medical care.
What is most important to remember is that no migraine is too small to seek help for. Your healthcare practitioner can’t help you unless you are honest with them and tell them what you are experiencing.
Can a Chiropractor Help with Migraines?
In terms of treating migraines, the most common form of treatment is medication.
However, other more natural options are also available for those who do not wish to take medication or those who have not found medication to be effective in treating their migraines.
Chiropractic care is one such treatment option that can be used as an alternative or supplemental treatment for medicine. Though research on the effects of chiropractic care on migraines is limited, there is some research to suggest that chiropractic care can help minimize or eliminate migraine symptoms.
Of the research that exists, some of the most compelling information comes from a 2011 clinical review. In this review, researchers found that massage therapy, physiotherapy, relaxation, and chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy have the potential to be equally effective at managing migraines as more traditional medicines like propranolol and topiramate.
In a more recent 2017 survey of more than 1,800 chiropractors, 53% of the surveyed chiropractors reported having a high caseload of patients with migraines.
Although more research is needed to be certain of the relationship between chiropractic care and migraines, it is clear that the therapy shows promising potential as a treatment for managing the symptoms and occurrence of migraines.
Final Thoughts: Find the Right Care Provider for Your Migraines
If you are on a journey to start treating and managing your migraines, the key is to find the right healthcare provider for your needs.
In many cases, it can be beneficial to first visit a doctor to ensure there is not a more worrisome underlying condition at play that is causing you to experience migraines. Visiting a doctor is also crucial for making sure that you are not on any medications that may interact negatively with your migraines.
Once you have a healthcare practitioner you can trust, then you can begin adding additional care providers to your healthcare ensemble, such as a chiropractor. Your healthcare practitioner may even be able to recommend a great local chiropractic care center for you to check out!
No matter which healthcare professionals you choose to seek out, the key is to be honest and open with them when describing your experience with migraines. Remember that no detail is too small and having all the information can help your providers make the most informed decisions for your treatment.