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Migraine Symptoms, Causes, and Solutions

If you commonly suffer from migraines, know that you’re not alone. Around 39 million Americans, including children, are all affected by migraines. Migraines are often debilitating, leaving people incapacitated by pounding pain, nausea, and light and sound sensitivity.

Migraines aren’t typical headaches. And you might not find relief with the typical headache cures. In this blog, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about migraines and how to solve them.

Migraines 101:

Migraines affect around 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men. A migraine is usually a moderate or severe headache, typically felt as a throbbing pain on one side of the head. However, migraines may also be accompanied by symptoms like:

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Sensitivity to sound and light

  • Sweating

  • Hot or cold flashes

  • Abdominal pain

  • Diarrhea

For the 1 in 3 people that experience auras (temporary warning signs) before a migraine, they may also experience:

  • Visual problems like blind spots or flashing lights

  • Dizziness

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Numbness or pins and needles throughout the upper body

A migraine typically occurs in four stages- prodrome, aura, headache, and postdrome. Knowing the stages of a migraine can help you catch the symptoms early and potentially minimize the effects.

  1. Prodrome → This stage is also known as the premonitory stage, as it can begin 1 to 3 days before the headache itself. The prodrome stage is associated with symptoms like:

    1. Food cravings

    2. Fatigue

    3. Irritability

    4. Neck pain

    5. Trouble concentrating

    6. Yawning

    7. Sensitivity to light or sound

  2. Aura → Not everyone who gets a migraine will experience the aura stage. They typically occur in around ⅓ of migraine episodes. For those who do experience auras, they usually occur between 10 and 30 minutes before the headache. The most common symptoms are visual problems like flashing lights or blind spots. Other symptoms of the aura phase include:

    1. Partial vision loss

    2. Changes in speech

    3. Numbness or tingling in the face or limbs

    4. Weakness in the face or limbs

    5. Impairments in taste, smell, or touch

  3. Headache → This is the classic throbbing pain associated with the migraine headache. Headaches last an average of 4 hours, but they can last for hours or days. The symptoms can vary, but the most common are:

    1. Dizziness

    2. Pulsing or throbbing head or neck pain

    3. Difficulty sleeping

    4. Mood changes

    5. Increased sensitivity to light and sound

  4. Postdrome → This stage is also known as the migraine hangover, it begins when the peak headache pain has lessened. Because a migraine can affect the entire body, the postdrome phase can result in discomfort or pain throughout the body. The postdrome phase doesn’t affect everyone, but it can last 24 to 48 hours. Some common symptoms include:

    1. Body aches

    2. Dehydration

    3. Euphoric or depressed mood

    4. Trouble concentrating

    5. Fatigue

What causes migraines?

The exact cause of migraines has yet to be discovered, but scientists think they result from abnormal brain activity that temporarily impacts nerve signals, blood vessels, and chemicals in the brain. It is also very likely that your genetics play a role in if you get migraines or not.

Scientists and doctors have compiled several potential causes of migraines. Here are some of the potential migraine triggers:

  • Hormonal changes:

    • Some women experience migraines around their period, because of changes in the levels of hormones like estrogen. This type of migraine is known as a pure menstrual migraine. These migraines often improve after menopause, but for other women, menopause makes them worse.

  • Emotional triggers:

    • Anxiety

    • Tension

    • Shock

    • Stress

    • Depression

    • Excitement

  • Physical triggers:

    • Poor-quality sleep

    • Poor posture

    • Jet lag

    • Low blood sugar

    • Tiredness

    • Strenuous exercise

    • Neck or shoulder tension

  • Dietary triggers:

    • Dehydration

    • Alcohol

    • Missed, delayed, or irregular meals

    • Caffeine products like coffee or tea

    • Foods containing tyramine (smoked fish, blue cheese, feta, cured meats)

    • Foods containing artificial sweeteners, chocolate, MSG, or salt

  • Environmental triggers:

    • Bright lights

    • Smoking

    • Loud noises

    • Flickering screens

    • Strong odors

    • Stuffy atmosphere

Natural migraine cures:

If you’re hesitant to take migraine medication or painkillers to relieve your migraine symptoms, we’ve compiled some at-home treatments that should help prevent the onset of migraines.

  1. Avoid certain foods → Diet plays a vital role in preventing migraines. Many foods and beverages have been identified as migraine triggers. Some of such foods include:

    1. Chocolate

    2. Alcohol (especially red wine)

    3. Very cold foods

    4. Pickled foods

    5. Beans

    6. Cultured dairy products

    7. Foods that contain tyramine (blue cheese, fets, swiss, smoked fish, pickled herrings)

    8. Foods containing nitrates (hot dogs, bacon, sausage, deli meats)

  2. Eat more magnesium → Headaches and migraines have both been linked to magnesium deficiencies. Thus, it’s not surprising that according to research, taking the supplement magnesium oxide may help prevent migraine auras and menstrual migraines. If you don’t want to supplement, you can also add foods with magnesium into your diet, these include:

    1. Sesame seeds

    2. Almonds

    3. Cashews

    4. Oatmeal

    5. Eggs

    6. Sunflower seeds

    7. Brazil nuts

  3. Apply peppermint oil → Peppermint oil contains menthol, which has beneficial effects for migraine symptoms. Putting peppermint oil on your temples, back of the neck, and chest area will relieve symptoms of migraines.

  4. Ginger → Ginger is known to ease nausea, a common symptom of migraines. Research has also demonstrated that it has pain-relieving benefits for migraines. Ingesting ginger or rubbing ginger oil on your temples, forehead, and back of the neck all work in relieving migraine pain.

  5. Find feverfew → This flowering herb looks like a daisy and is a common folk remedy for migraines. While not particularly well studied, feverfew supplements have been used as a migraine cure for decades.

  6. Use stress management techniques → According to the American Headache Society, over 80% of people with migraines report stress being a primary trigger. Managing your stress better may help you decrease the frequency of your migraines. Some stress management techniques include:

    1. Mental imagery

    2. Counseling or therapy

    3. Deep breathing exercises

    4. Meditating

    5. Progressive muscle relaxation

  7. Drink more water → Around ⅓ of migraine sufferers report dehydration as the main trigger. Try drinking more water throughout the day, especially on hot days or days in which you sweat a lot.

  8. Apply lavender oil → Inhaling the essential oil lavender has been found to decrease migraine pain. It can be inhaled directly or applied to your temples.

    1. One study found that 3 months of taking lavender before migraine attacks reduced the frequency and severity of migraine attacks.

  9. Sleep more → Research has suggested that the less sleep you get, the more migraines you have. This is true for migraines with and without auras. One of the best ways to increase the quality of your sleep is by developing good sleep hygiene.

  10. Check your genes → Genetics play a large role in migraines. It’s suggested that over 60% of the reason people get migraines is due to their genes. Several genes, like TRESK, have been found to make people more sensitive to changes in the environment that can trigger an attack. Knowing if you’re more susceptible can help with the understanding and treatment of your migraines.

When to contact a doctor:

Migraines are incredibly uncomfortable to endure, yet not every migraine warrants a hospital visit. However, there are some warning signs that should alert you that a doctor is needed:

  • You have frequent migraines, occurring more than twice a month and lasting for several hours to days

  • Your headaches impact your home life, school, or work functioning

  • You have several headaches with a stiff neck

  • Your headaches just started out of the blue

  • You have pain around the ear or eye

  • You have vomiting, sensory disturbances, or nausea with your headaches

If you’re suffering from frequent migraines, know that you don’t have to, there are solutions. Knowing the genetic factors and potential nutrient deficiencies behind your migraines can help you cure them for good.

For more information about optimal health at The Johnson Center, click here to contact us. Or, email our office at or call 276-235-3205, to set up your complimentary 15-minute discovery call with Dr. Johnson!

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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