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Hope for Migraineurs

April 1, 2015

I’m 37 and I’ve had migraines for my entire life. When I was a child, I couldn’t swallow pills and I couldn’t take soluble aspirin, so I used to get light sensitive and vomit and have to sleep it off on a regular basis. I missed a lot of quarter or half days of school. I remember that I used to stay home until I felt better, then go to school for the rest of the day.

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Me at 5 in the dress at the Fancy Dress. The migraine hadn’t started yet.

I had a beautiful red velvet dress when I was five. I liked to wear it and I dreaded wearing it- I noticed that I got a headache every time I wore it. I got a headache every time we had a fancy dress folk-dance event (A yearly occurrence.), or other events in crowded, stuffy, overheated rooms. I got a headache when I stayed over at my friend’s house, where they always cranked the fireplace up and cooked us all. Looking back, there was a theme, but I didn’t see it for many years. We went to a chiropractor for a time. He had an holistic approach to migraine management and had us cut out sugar and trans fats and used to get grumpy if I jumped on a trampoline. We stopped having ‘cordial’, or any flavoured sugary ‘juice’ mixes (mostly because my brother was a very energetic kid and my mother was trying to preserve some sanity.) I did not like going to the chiropractor– it used to give me the hiccups, which made my head ache, and I didn’t like the manipulations, and eventually refused to go back. Sugar crept back in. Eventually, I learned to swallow pills and used over the counter (OTC) meds to manage my pain. I could never get rid of a migraine, but I could stop it progressing to the vomiting stage. I think I have a pretty good tolerance for pain and usually manage to soldier on. I don’t know if this is why I’ve never had a doctor display any helpfulness regarding migraines but it could be. Apart from a brain scan when I was sort of middle-sized and a prescription for paracetamol once that included an anti-emetic, doctors have not been helpful at all. Consequently, I have always managed my pain myself and have often felt completely hopeless and helpless in the face of debilitating, crushing pain. I tried different things over the years. I discovered that I was pretty well if I had a sugar-free and relatively low-carbohydrate diet. If I fell off the wagon and indulged in a slice or a muffin, I would, mysteriously and inevitably, get a migraine two days later. I knew it couldn’t be directly related to blood sugar as the lag was too great, but I couldn’t work out what was going on. I gradually stopped eating a sugar-free diet, as I found that if I ate a little consistently I was kind of managing it, especially with adequate protein to balance it, and plenty of water. I learned what my other triggers were– Synthetic smells (like in body spray and similar); bright lights; many preservatives and food colourings; getting too hot or too tired; too many apples or oranges; fizzy drink; too much chocolate; not drinking enough water; stress. I don’t like sliced bread. It is squishy and doughy. I hate the texture. I stopped eating it, except for when I went to a friend’s house and we would have salad sandwiches for lunch. Twenty minutes later I would feel as if someone had smacked me in the head with a board (ie serious brain fog) and then I would end my Sunday with a migraine. I eventually worked out what was happening and stopped eating the bread. It turns out that they use a preservative to stop the bread going moldy in the bag. That was what I was reacting to. I started having more pain-free weekends. When I was 18 my mother, frustrated by my morning migraines, went to town and got me a pretty expensive pillow. It was like sleeping on a cloud. I woke up with less migraines. When it wore out I imported another one from America because I could no longer source one locally. My pillow has been to Europe and it comes everywhere with me, even on seat-only flights. Luckily it is highly squashable. I never sleep without it.

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Invista Comforel pillow. Might not suit everyone, but I love it

After years of studying and paying no attention to my posture, I noticed more and more of my migraines were beginning as neck pain. My sister commented that her migraines appeared to be very intense muscle knots in her neck and on the outside of her head- the muscle that moved on the side of her head when she chewed would get sore to the touch. I started paying attention to the location of my pain and found that I was experiencing the same thing. I found this very confusing, as everyone speaks of migraines as ‘pounding’. I would describe my pain as ‘crushing’. It never pounds, except when I get out of bed, when it might throb a couple of times before getting the crush back on. My neck pain worsened. Osteopath treatments helped, but I kept having to go back. I came across the McKenzie Method, which is used by some physiotherapists. I found a local physio who was trained in the technique and she helped my get my neck pain under control. I started sitting up straight absolutely all the time and doing exercises to relieve the pressure in my neck. If I had a migraine that started in my neck, however, the exercises didn’t take it away. I wondered if I could find relief from the crushing pain by concocting a salve with essential oils in it that might help with inflammation and muscle cramps. I researched that and eventually settled on a blend that I didn’t mind the smell of. I then discovered, through a facebook friend, that magnesium chloride could be purchased in a spray form and applied to skin. I started applying it every night before bed. I also made my salve with magnesuim chloride in it, in an effort to boost its muscle cramp fighting properties. These things all helped me to a certain extent. They were also useful as they made me feel a little less helpless in the face of the pain. I had things I could try to help me cope. salve I tackled the nausea with ginger pills and motion-sickness wrist bands, with moderate success. I emerged from one trip to the emergency doctor a few years ago with a prescription for an anti-emetic. That was the first time ever that a doctor had prescribed something for me to have at home to help with the nausea, (except for one time when I was 12). I found that my neck pain and migraines were worse at certain times of the month. When I asked my doctor why this might be, he couldn’t tell me. However, we live in the Information Age, and I love to research and learn, so I started googling and reading anything I could find. Now, there is a lot of what I call *phooey* on the internet, and there are a lot of people who just want to whinge about their awful life and how much worse their pain is than everyone else’s. It was a lot to trawl through. However, I am a born skeptic, which is an essential quality in Internet-Land, and I’m also very curious. When I came across a couple of posts via facebook which claimed one could cure migraines by simply having a glass of water with lemon juice and either one or two whole teaspoons of salt stirred in, my bs detector went off, as I was certain that that much salt would simply induce vomiting, curing nothing. Also, no matter how many things I read that say everyone should drink lemon in water every day, I will never do that because lemons make me feel weird. I am also familiar with the chinese-whispers effect on the internet, so I wondered if there was a grain of truth to the salt-for-migraines idea. I typed ‘salt and migraines’ into google and found my grain of truth. I found a neuro-scientist named Angela Stanton who helps migraine sufferers, whom she calls ‘migraineurs’, to manage their hydration using regular table salt and adequate water consumption, along with dietary changes like cutting tea and coffee down to one per day, and eliminating sugar and sugar substitutes. I bought her book and discovered that the cause of most migraines is when our potassium:sodium ratio gets out of balance and causes dehydration. There is sciencey stuff about how fluid moves in and out of our cells that I read and could understand but am not quite up to explaining. When we get in this state, we drink and drink but stay thirsty and have clear urine and get migraines. She recommends adding salt until there is colour in the urine and paying attention to how much potassuim we are eating. Ideally, our potassium:sodium ratio should be 2:1. An unprocessed, fruit and veg and nut driven diet (like mine) is pretty high in potassium and low in sodium, which means our cells get dehydrated because the pumps that control the movement of fluid in and out of our cells can’t work well with inadequate sodium. Dr Stanton runs a very interactive facebook page where she answers questions and tries to get people in the path to a pain-free life. It is a place to go if you’re serous about doing what it takes to get off meds and take control of your migraines. It is not a place to go to get a magic solution that will fix you without making lifestyle changes. I connected with her there and got stuck in. She had me drop all the sugar from my diet in an effort to get my hydration sorted. Sugar dehydrates our cells, so it’s very counterproductive for someone like me who battles to stay adequately hydrated. She also had me begin to add more salt in pinches and sprinkles throughout the day. I have low-ish blood-pressure and it is apparently extremely common for migraineus to have very low blood pressure, as we are inadequately hydrated. Extra salt is exactly what we need. It is fairly early days, yet. I am old enough and cynical enough and have lived with pain for long enough to not believe in panaceas, no matter what the internet says. However, I’ve just romped through a week that should have been liberally peppered with migraines and, apart from the side effects of dropping sugar from my diet, I’ve been remarkably well. I am thinking that this might be the last piece of the migraine puzzle for me, which is an amazing thought.

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From → Health

5 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Fighting the Migraine Epidemic and commented:
    A member from my Facebook group! Enjoy the reading and that cute picture of hers! 🙂

  2. I think our headaches are buddies. I’m 31 and have been getting migraines since I was about six or seven. Still trying to figure them out especially after recently having a baby brought on more frequent headaches. Looking into your tips!

  3. Wantmylifeback! permalink

    I have suffered migraine for twenty years, due to a hysterectomy eight years ago ( I have one ovary), I am now in menopause, this has increased my migraine, to a point where they are daily, I feel I am not coping with life, I have permanent snowy vision and my doctor insists that an eye doctor is the way to go! I do not think so, which has brought me to the Internet. I to typed in salt and migrain, I do not add salt to anything and an article by Angela Stanton came up and a light bulb went on!! I have just read the article above and would like to say a massive thank you for sharing your experience, it gives me hope, I am convinced I have migraine brain, I have ordered the migraine protocol and await it’s arrival with what I can only describe as relieved excitement!! I wish you luck and really do hope it keeps working for you!

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