Migraines and Bad Headaches - Why They Happen & Treatment

Anyone who has ever experienced, or suffers from migraines, is acutely aware of how debilitating they are.

A migraine is a recurrent throbbing headache, often in one side of the head, frequently accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines may include a stage called aura, which is marked by visual disturbances (flashes, splotches, zigzags, or shimmering coloured lights surrounding a blind spot).

Why do they happen? "Migraine is a neurobiological disorder involving both neurological and vascular changes in the brain during an attack. People with a genetic predisposition have a reduced threshold for the activation of the brain's 'pain centers' and become hypersensitive to stimuli that cause pain," says Susan Broner, MD, medical director of the Manhattan Headache Center in New York City. If you're prone to migraines (or bad headaches), certain stimuli may bring them on.

Trace your headaches on a calendar in order to track patterns and potential catalysts such as the following:

Alcohol, missed meals (don't go longer than 3 hours without food), large amounts of caffeine or sugar, sleep disturbances (be consistent about when you go to bed and when you wake up), and dropping estrogen levels. "Before menstruation, women have a steep decline in estrogen that appears to spark migraines," says Andrew Michel Blumenfeld, MD, director of the Headache Center of Southern California.

Some natural migraine remedies that can help alleviate and even eliminate migraine symptoms include:

ICE PACKS; always opt for cold rather than heat to stop migraine pain. "Ice is an anti-inflammatory," says Carolyn Bernstein, MD.

 SUPPLEMENTS; In a recent study, patients who took 400 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) daily experienced significantly fewer migraines after 3 months. CoQ10 is another supplement that also proved effective in preventing migraines in a clinical study.

RELAXATION TECHNIQUES; massage can ease neck and shoulder spasms, while tai chi increases body awareness, making it easier to detect and treat an oncoming headache. Yoga that focuses on mindfulness, such as hatha and restorative yoga, may also help.

HERBS; New recommendations from the American Academy of Neurology confirm that butterbur can prevent migraines, possibly because it supports healthy blood flow to the brain. Dry-leaf-capsules of feverfew (a traditional herbal remedy for migraines) may also reduce the frequency of migraines, though the clinical evidence is still inconclusive.

ACUPUNCTURE; Several studies have found that it provides some of the same long-term results as drugs but without side effects.