3 Ways to Keep Migraine Symptoms Under Control

Migraine symptoms can negatively impact your quality of life. Here are three methods using medication and natural remedies that help keep migraine attacks under control.

Man refusing a cup of coffee

A common neurological ailment, migraine is clinically known as a primary headache, which refers to a condition that isn’t caused by an underlying disease. According to the Ministry of Health Malaysia, migraine symptoms affect approximately 1 in 4 women while 1 in 12 men develop migraine at some point in their lives. 

Types of Migraine

Not all migraine attacks are the same as they vary in frequency, severity, and symptoms. Some migraines occur a few times a week or once in a couple of months. Some may just be a moderate headache, while at other times, nausea or sweating can accompany a migraine. 

Generally, doctors will take note of your symptoms and diagnose the condition based on two primary types of migraine: 

  • Migraine with aura: This migraine comes with specific warning signs or “aura” that occur before a headache. Aura signs can be visual (bright lines, flickering), auditory (tinnitus or ringing in the ears), somatosensory (tingling, numbness), or motor (weakness on one side of the body or face) 
  • Migraine without aura: This migraine only presents with a headache without the warning signs. It is five times more common than migraine with aura. 

Symptoms and Triggers

Driver in a car shielding his eyes from the direct sunlight
Bright lights and loud noises can trigger a migraine attack.

Headaches are one of the primary symptoms of migraine. They often start as a dull ache that turns into a pulsing or pounding pain ranging from mild and moderate to severe. The pain can also shift from one side to another (around the temples, sinuses, or neck) or spread to the front and back of your head. Other symptoms may also appear at the same time. For example:  
 

  • feeling dizzy 
  • loss of appetite 
  • stomach problems 
  • nausea and vomiting 
  • feeling warm and sweating 
  • getting the chills 
  • sensitivity to bright lights and loud noises 
  • diarrhoea or fever (in rare cases of migraine) 

To date, the root cause of migraine remains unknown. However, many factors can trigger the condition, such as missing a meal, sensitivity to chemicals, caffeine, medication, hormonal changes, flashing lights, overexertion, dehydration, lack of sleep, and even weather conditions like barometric pressure or changes in altitude. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shares similar views about migraine triggers, which include pathogenic factors, irregular diet, irregular lifestyle, and emotional dysregulation. In addition, blood stasis and blood deficiency during a menstrual cycle can also lead to migraine in women. 

Migraine Treatment Options

Woman having a headache as she works on her proposal
Migraine symptoms can affect your work and personal life if left untreated.

Mild cases of migraine can go away on their own. However, if a migraine attack is affecting your work and daily life, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional to get the condition under control. Fortunately, many different treatment options are available in Malaysia. 

1. Medication 

Medication for migraine is divided into two categories: for immediate relief (acute treatment) and preventative treatment. 

To instantly reduce or stop a migraine headache, doctors usually prescribe painkillers like paracetamol (Panadol), mefenamic acid (ponstan), ibuprofen, diclofenac (voltaren), and naproxen (synflex). 

These medications should be taken as soon as the symptoms set in. However, as they produce many side effects, you should not take these painkillers on a long-term basis. Paradoxically, overusing or prolonged use of these painkillers can exacerbate the pain. 

For preventing occasional migraines, medications include Pizotifen (sandomigran), flunarizine (sibelium), Propranolol, and sodium valproic (epilim). These are taken daily over three to six months, whether there’s a migraine or not. This way, patients have more control over their condition, allowing them to go about their daily activities without worrying if a migraine attack is just around the corner. Like painkillers, these medications also come with strong side effects, so talk to your doctor beforehand. 

For other symptoms like nausea or vomiting, patients are recommended antiemetic or anti-sickness medicine such as metoclopramide (maxolon) or prochlorperazine (stemetil). 

2. TCM treatment 

In TCM, migraine treatment emphasises the liver, spleen, and kidney. There are also different types of migraine, with each requiring a specific treatment protocol. The most common types are: 

  • blood stasis/ syndrome of phlegm-dampness blocking collaterals 
  • liver qi/hepatic yang hyperactivity 
  • qi (vital life energy) and blood deficiency 
  • liver and kidney yin deficiency 

“All these different types of migraine signify yin (passive energy) and yang (active energy) imbalance as well as qi and blood disorder in the head,” Physician Sam Ng explains. “When treating migraine patients, we focus on a few key areas. These include replenishing qi and promoting blood circulation along with invigorating the spleen and resolving phlegm. We also look into dispersing stagnated liver qi and unblocking stuffy orifice, as well as nourishing the liver and kidney.” 

According to a study, a combination of acupuncture and a modified herbal decoction called Huo Xue Qu Feng Tong Luo Tang (Blood Activating Wind Dispelling Meridian Unblocking Decoction) is effective in relieving migraines and their accompanying symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and visual auras. 

Apart from acupuncture and herbal medicine, acupressure can also provide migraine relief via two pressure points: 

Apart from acupuncture and herbal medicine
Apart from acupuncture and herbal medicine
  • LI-4 (Hegu), which is located between the base of your thumb and index finger 
  • LR 3 (Tai Chong), which is located about two to five centimetres from the base of the big toe and index toe 

3. Lifestyle remedies 

As external conditions and lifestyle habits can trigger migraines, it helps to make some changes in your daily life to manage the headaches better. Here are some tips from Physician Sam: 

  • Ensure regular meals and a well-balanced diet. It’s important to have at least regular three meals a day. Minimise the intake of raw, cold, spicy, and pungent foods. 
  • Stay away from cigarettes and alcohol. Also, reduce caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea. 
  • Get enough sleep and don’t overexert yourself. 
  • Keep your emotions in check and learn stress management or relaxation techniques. 
  • Moderate exercise is essential as well. Start with low impact workouts and keep to a consistent routine. 

Additionally, Physician Sam recommends mint tea for migraine relief. To prepare the tea, brew 15 grams of dried mint leaves in hot water for five minutes. You can also try rooibos tea. This caffeine-free beverage helps relieve headaches, nervous tension, and insomnia. 

Migraine is a long-term health condition that can negatively impact your professional and personal life. If you suffer from severe migraine symptoms, seek professional help from a doctor or TCM practitioner to manage the condition and improve your quality of life.

References

  1. 2021. Migraine with Aura. [Accessed 18 December 2021]
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Migraine Headaches  [Accessed 18 December 2021]
  3. MyHEALTH Kementerian Kesihatan Malaysia. 2012. Migraine.  [Accessed 18 December 2021]
  4. 2014. Acupuncture & Herbs Best Pharmaceutical For Headaches  [Accessed 18 December 2021]

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