Tuesday, 11 September 2012

MIGRAINE COMFORT TIPS & RITUALS


MIGRAINE COMFORT TIPS & RITUALS

A friend once declared that everyone has an exact morning ritual, which they follow religiously. Not wanting to be thought so predictable and dull I vehemently protested this statement. The friend then asked me to describe, exactly, what I had for breakfast each morning and how I prepared it. I sadly realised he was right. Whilst your tea is brewing for 3 minutes, it is incredibly important that you put the marmite on your toast in tiny blobs and then join it up, otherwise it’s just too thick and doesn’t taste good and ….

I also realised, when I started to get a migraine the other day, that I have a very carefully prepared migraine ritual. I have tried and tested practices, including comfort foods and drinks that I have on hand, for when a migraine starts. If you don’t have a migraine ritual you need to have one, it needs to be ingrained, you need to be able to get your comfort aids to hand in a semi-comatosed state. I can reach for some of the items listed below in the dark, with my eyes shut, without leaving bed (pretty clever of me I know.)

So here are my migraine comfort tips and ritual (the order can vary depending on the type and level of pain, which doesn’t make it a very strict ritual and slightly ruins my metaphor but…) Everyone’s migraines are different, so your ritual and comfort tips will be different to mine but I hope you’ll find something useful below.

Just to be clear this is for when a migraine attack has started and you’ve taken your prescribed medications, which would obviously be STEP ONE. Watch these series of video’s on how to treat an attack by the National Migraine Centre.

So, I’ve taken my medications (they may or may not be working) and I take myself off to bed, or I may already be in bed…

THE RITUAL BEGINS…

1. HEAT
Yes, this may sound strange but I often like to put a hot water bottle on my neck/back/shoulder. Now to maximize the life of your hot water bottle you must invest in a Hot Water Bottle Cover. You must. It will double the heat life of your hot water bottle (this is also a good idea for a Christmas/birthday present for us migraineurs – p.s I like cashmere ones best, just sayin’. The White Company & Brora do lovely ones.)

If I can’t muster the energy to get to the Kitchen to make a hot water bottle I slap on a Heat Patch. These are also useful if you are out and about, or at work etc. You can apply directly to skin. I tend to use Cura Heat or Therma Care. Surgical Tape can help them stay put. At one point I was even a proper granny and had a heated blanket but found I couldn’t mould it to the right position, plus I was convinced it would burst into flames and kill me. Thus it wasn’t very relaxing.

I, therefore, suggest you invest in a Kitten. Kittens are, essentially, never ending, vibrating, hot water bottles. Very good for the environment. Very soothing.


Chipster - my eco friendly hot water bottle & migraine buddy
A more recent snap of Chipster





















2. COLD/ICE PACK
While I’m making my hot water bottle I’ll be wrapping up my cold Gel Pack.

Most migranuers reach for an Ice/ Cold Pack first. Ice is one of nature’s greatest anti-inflammatory treatments and the extreme cold can simply distract from the pain. I like to have a gel-pack (wrapped up in a dish cloth) on my forehead, or wherever on my head the pain is worse. Sometimes, I wrap it around the back of my neck. I really need to invest in one of those fancy head bands that you can slip a gel-pack in to. Such as this "Medi-Temp Pad"

You can also buy instant ice packs in most Pharmacies. Hospitals now routinely use these. These are good for having at work/in your bag etc.


TOP TIP: Have TWO gel-packs in your freezer to rotate. I use these blue ones, as you can bend them to desired shape as they seem to stay cold longest.




3. TENS UNIT
I then stick on my TENS unit. I adore my TENS unit, it will not stop a migraine once its started but it can, sometimes, greatly dull and distract from the pain. I’ve written more extensively here about how to use and where to buy one.

4. FOOD
Obviously this stage of the ritual depends on what time of day/night the migraine hits.

During a migraine the stomach essentially goes on strike. This is known as gastrostasis. I’m very lucky in that I don’t vomit with my migraines but I do sometimes feel sick and, therefore, often don’t feel hungry. But I know I’ll fare much better if I do eat a little something plus I’ll avoid blood sugar drops (and p.s vomiting is far less painful with something in your stomach than retching on an empty one.)  Often I just go with what I feel like. Usually something simple or, quite often, starchy carbohydrate – e.g a plate of chips. Mum craves a glass of milk and ready salted crisps! But as I’m lactose intolerant and suffer with severe stomach spasms after attacks, I try to eat foods that won't aggravate this.

If you’re alone, or might be alone, during an attack it’s prudent to have some ready meals frozen, or food you know you’ll tolerate or crave during a migraine that take minimal effort to prepare. When alone I can barely gather energy to walk to the bathroom so if I do feel like eating the idea of preparing a meal overwhelms me – so a healthy microwave meal is ideal – or a jacket potato is perfect.

Tip: A blood sugar level drop is the last thing we need on top of a migraine – and it could tip us into another migraine if we’re in the Postdrome (hangover) stage!



5. DRINK

Coca-Cola – for some this is a tonic for some it is a migraine trigger. Personally, I find a cold can of full fat Coke to be a miracle in a can. Caffeine is a natural pain killer but also aids absorption of other medications. As noted above the stomach goes on strike so getting medication into the system fast can be hard, plus the sugar in a full fat fizzy drink will raise blood sugar levels (a well known migraine trigger). Note: Do not have a diet fizzy drink (Aspartame can trigger migraines – and this will also negate the benefit of the sugar etc.)

Coca-Cola is often the only thing I feel like drinking during an attack. I swear that a can of Coke has once stopped me from getting a migraine.

Top Tip: A couple of soluble Asprin, dissolved in full fat Coke is a good first line of defense against an oncoming migraine. I was taught this trick at the National Migraine Centre (they suggested a full fat fizzy drink, accompanied by the anti-emitic Domperidone + dissolvable Asprin [or whichever painkiller works best for you])


There is a school of thought that caffeine is bad for migraineurs, being a natural pain killer it could, over time, lead to MOH. Caffeine is also a well-known migraine trigger. Bizarrely I can’t stand drinking straight coffee. I am trying to cut down the number of full fat Coke’s I drink (mainly because I don’t want my teeth to rot) so I try to save them for migraine days.

Other drinks I sometimes crave and that help with nausea are: Ginger Ale, Cranberry Juice and Sprite (not altogether!) I also have a huge jug of water on hand as well – don’t get dehydrated!


6. PILLOW FIGHT
Finding the right pillow has been the bane of my life. During a migraine some people suffer from allodynia which means the skin becomes extra sensitive to touch. I’m lucky in that I don’t get this too badly, but I have actually spent whole nights lying on the floor with yoga blocks under my head as that seemed to be the only comfortable position. As a neck injury is my main trigger the right neck support at night, and during a migraine, is vital. Too soft a pillow gives one neck sprain, too hard a pillow and you wake up not being able to move your neck. I thought I had the answer with the Tempur Traditional Pillow but they’ve turned it into a brick. I’m not above taking out the stuffing of pillows in hotels by the way…. But generally synthetic pillows are a happy medium, have a lot of them, so you can arrange them around you in any way you want.

7. NECK BRACE
Again, this is very particular to me because of the above mentioned neck injury. My neck frequently goes into spasm so this often helps but I also find during a migraine having this support, taking the weight off my head as it were, helps a little too.

8. EYE MASK/PASHMINA
Aversion to light, photophobia, is a well known migraine symptom. I have an old Virgin Atlantic airlines mask I pop on, but sometimes the straps are, to my sensitive pounding head, too painful. Instead, I lay my pink pashmina over my eyes. I should probably invest in a nice, comfy, eye mask to keep out the light. (See step 2, you can get cold eye masks too.)

9. LAVENDER OIL/CANDLES
I become incredibly sensitive to smells before/during and after a migraine. On my bedside table I have some lavender oil that I can pour into a dish which gives a lovely scent, this helps with feelings of nausea and can drown out other smells if you’re living with friends or travelling. I also have lavender candles dotted around, though these present obvious fire hazards… especially if you’re going to be in bed for 3 days, alone… I’ve tried other scents but always come back to lavender.

10. AUDIO BOOKS
So, I’ve got the Ice packs, hot water bottles, TENS unit, drinks, food all ready and, by the way, this has probably taken about two minutes, if that. I then press play. Now I can relax.

Audio books have literally saved my life, my soul. I will shortly be devoting a whole post to the subtle art of finding the right audio book to listen to when I have a migraine. I have never mastered meditation (even after reading "Eat, Pray, Love"), hypnotherapy just sends me straight to sleep and I’m basically in too much pain during a migraine to try it. I can’t bear to listen to music and most sounds actually hurt but I crave an audio book. This might not make sense, but in a way it's my meditation, I know I can switch off, and swim into the world of the usually dulcet tones of the reader. The aim, when a migraine hits, is to hopefully get to sleep as soon as possible, and audio books help me – as long as you pick the right one. This is why the story can’t be too exciting, scary or bizarre. They need to be comforting but likewise they can’t be too boring. My top tips: Agatha Christie is the queen – gentle yet intreaguing. Classics are good too, e.g Jane Austen, Charles Dickens. Alexander McCall Smith's "No1 Ladies Detective Agency" series are perfect for long migraines, again a gentle listen. (Comedy biographies are best for migraine hangovers – because you’ll want to stay awake to listen.) More on this to follow...


I use the Audible App on my iPad – which has a good ‘snooze’ feature where you can set the time limit (I sign up every couple of months to their membership scheme then unsubscribe to take advantage of cheaper rates!) Other sources of audio material is the mighty BBC Radio 4, this has the advantage of being free – but most shows are only 30-45 mins. I need something that is going to see me through a longer period, which is partly why meditation and music don’t satisfy! Libravox offers free downloads, volunteers read out audio books so the quality is very mixed.



 So that's my ritual - as I said it really takes no time at all but I've got it down to a fine art.

I'd love to hear from you. What are your migraine rituals? What brings you comfort during an attack?

Other posts you might find useful:

Coming up:
The Migraine Trust User Group: Have your say
The Truth About Elvis Presley's Death!
Topamax Part II

14 comments:

  1. Ah-ha! You may have just revealed something life changing - and if you have - THANK YOU! Partner suffers seizures which look like epileptic fits but are, it seems, migraines. Medication (for epilepsy, I think) are horrendous, providing misery and unpredictable behaviour. Eyeing the line of empty diet coke bottles in the recycling can... I wonder if I should promote a high-sugar alternative. Will keep you posted. (May also seek treatment for my cat phobia.)

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    1. Oh yes, Aspartame is awful - a Neurologist once told me about a study on it looking at MRI scans etc the bran activity was like being on drugs - as in party drugs i.e not great really! It's not actually one of my main triggers but after everything he told me about what it does to the brain I decided to stick to good old sugar...at least I know what that's going to do to me & low blood sugar is a trigger! I'm actually on an epliepsy drug for my migraines at the moment too.... so we must compare notes! Is it Hemiplegic or Basilar migraines he's getting? So sorry must be so scary for you both! But I'm here if you need - and you must get in touch with The Migraine Trust or check out their website which has lots of amazing info & free call lines etc. Also I can tell you perfect Docs to see at National Migraine Centre - direct train from Brighton 5 mins from his office! xx

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  2. I tie tights round my head for pressure,then take medd before its too late and my head explodes

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  3. Do you know anything about complex menstrual migraine

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    1. Hi Rachel, sorry this is not my area of expertise! Do you live in the UK or USA? Either way some great online resources for you would be the Migraine Trust - they've got good fact sheets such as this one http://www.migrainetrust.org/factsheet-menstruation-and-migraine-10883 and migraine.com or ache etc - links can be found at the top right of this page - they have some good info on menstrual migraines. Also there are some really good chapters in the books I link to in my tried and tested pages about mentsrual migraines, esp the ones by Alison Frith and Professor Anne MacGregor who is regarded as the leading expert in this field. If you live in the UK you might want to consider visiting the National Migraine Centre who will have a Doctor specialising in that area? Their website will also have some good tips? I do know that treating is pre-emptively is often the key though..... sorry not to be more use!

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  4. Have you tried wrapping tights round your head ,yhis really helps my migraine whilst med lkicks in ,the pressure and tightness helps

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  5. Also the tights can hold an ice or heat pack without you holding it,I live in uk

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    1. Sounds like a good idea. Can't say I've tried it myself though - use a scarf/dishcloth...you might have just invented a new product!

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  6. When my kids see the tights on my head they know I'm poorly,husband moans oh no not another headache,not very understanding.my kids so sick of deeing tights,tempted not to wear them to save everyone moaning

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  7. I am 100 PERCENT with you on the calming sounds of the human voice. I thought I was the only one! I tried explaining it to people, but they all were like "I thought noise didn't help migraines..."

    Since I am a fast reader, I find audiobooks excruciatingly slow (me = impatient). So I listen to a cappella. Old stuff (like churchy, ye-old medieval) and new stuff (pentatonix). Just the human voice, and the steady and repetitive nature of music; it's not jarring at all. I have a specific playlist on my ipod and everything.

    Hope this helps someone :)

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    1. Hey - interesting! I know others who like this type of 'music' sound too. If you like reading you should join the Book Club! Hope you're well

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  8. Getting through a tough headache or Migraine can be made easier by having what you need on hand at all times. Adding a few ... Here are suggestions for assembling your onw personal comfort and relief bag. Natural migraine remedies for women

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  9. Hi Victoria from sunny and earthquaky California,

    I am a first time reader and long time migraine sufferer since age 10-12 and now I'm in my 50's. I happened upon your halarious blog and will be reading past topics and enjoying I am sure. Thank you. No one really understands except a fellow migraineur. Thank you too to all the commenters as it is helpful.

    Rituals: My oddest one is digging my fingernails into my forehead as hard as I can stand. Make your hand like a claw and turn it around and apply fingernails to forehead. space them evenly along the eyebrows and the pinky fingers naturally land between the eyebrows - apply as much pressure as you can stand for as long as you can stand. I use this technique while the triptans are on their way to working. Migraine treatment can be relieved by caffeine so I always get in a fix where because I first treated w/caffeine prior to stepping it up to the triptans I then cannot go to sleep which would help because I am so hopped up on coffee and or an Anacin (aspirin/caffeine OTC med) as first line of treatment. This finger nail technique makes sense to me now as I am now hearing in the states there is a surgery being touted as helping migrainers called decompression surgery.

    Thank you for making a crummy condition funny because mostly it sucks big time!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi Victoria from sunny and earthquaky California,

    First time reader / long time migraine sufferer since age 10-12 and now I'm in my 50's. I happened upon your halarious blog and will be reading past topics and enjoying I am sure. Thank you. No one really understands except a fellow migraineur. Thank you too to all the commenters as it is helpful.

    Rituals: My oddest one is digging my fingernails into my forehead as hard as I can stand. Make your hand like a claw and turn it around and apply fingernails to forehead. space them evenly along the eyebrows the pinky fingers naturally land between the eyebrows - apply as much pressure as you can stand for as long as you can stand. I use this technique while the triptans are on their way to working and just want a moment break. This finger nail technique makes sense to me now as I am now hearing in the states there is a surgery being touted as helping migrainers called decompression surgery.

    Thank you for making a crummy condition funny because mostly it sucks big time!

    ReplyDelete

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