Experiencing a headache every once in a while isn’t something to worry about. Most people suffer from pain in the face and neck due to factors such as occasional stress and lack of sleep.
However, when your headaches become recurring or chronic, there is no time to lose. Understanding what’s causing them and finding the right line of treatment are essential steps toward regaining control over your life.
Pinpointing the root causes of chronic migraines isn’t straightforward, especially as this condition often arises from a range of factors. Nonetheless, you should not surrender to enduring ineffective therapies and the side effects of pain medications.
The innovative treatment protocol pioneered by Neuragenex – Neurofunctional Pain Management – can help you tackle the systemic inflammation that is at the root of your headaches. Ultimately, this approach can help you restore your health and put a stop to the pain without medications or surgery. Discover how in the guide below.
Migraines are a type of headache that affects one side of the head, with painful sensations usually affecting the forehead and the areas around the eye. The pain can spread through the head and the scalp, and it can be accompanied by a range of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to stimuli such as light, odors, and sounds.
Migraines can be either episodic or chronic:
- Episodic migraine: 0-14 days of headache per month
- Chronic migraine: 15 or more headache days per month
The frequency and intensity of migraine attacks can vary over time. You may be diagnosed with episodic migraine at first, but your condition can develop into chronic headaches over time. Conversely, chronic migraines can reverse back into episodic headaches due to health events or aging.
In the sections below, we’ll look at the symptoms, nature, and impact of migraine.
Each migraine is unique in terms of symptom intensity and nature. These headaches tend to develop in four distinct phases:
- Prodrome. This “pre-headache” phase occurs between three days and 24 hours before a migraine attack. Prodrome symptoms include food cravings, neck stiffness, abnormal sensations, hyperactivity, fatigue, and excessive yawning. Being able to recognize these symptoms as soon as they occur can help you intervene to reduce the intensity or duration of a migraine attack. You can do so by avoiding triggers, resting, and reducing tension.
- Aura. The aura phase indicates that a migraine attack is around the corner. Aura symptoms tend to occur within 24 hours before the headache and intensify 10 – 60 minutes before the attack. These symptoms vary from one person to another and include visual disturbances (e.g. flashes of lights, tunnel vision, vision loss, and even hallucinations), sensor and motor disturbances, and speech issues, such as slurred speech.
- Migraine attack. This phase is characterized by headache as well as nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to light and sound. We’ll look at these symptoms in more detail below. The headache phase of a migraine attack can last between four and 72 hours.
- Postdrome. Postdrome, also known as “migraine hangover,” occurs in the 24 – 48 hours after a migraine attack has subsided. In this phase, you may experience fatigue, muscle or joint soreness, brain fog, and lack of focus.
While only around a third of people with migraines have premonitory symptoms such as prodrome or aura before a headache, most symptoms of a migraine attack are similar among patients with this condition.
These symptoms include:
- Pain, usually localized to one side of the head
- Painful sensations that spread across the scalp, face, and neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light, odors, and sounds
- Cognitive difficulties, trouble concentrating, lack of focus, and brain fog
- Extreme fatigue (often aggravated by nausea, vomiting, and pain)
- Changes in body temperature
- Blurred vision
- Phantom smells
While these symptoms should start to subside within a few hours of the beginning of the attack, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if your symptoms last longer than two days or if they are accompanied by numbness, nosebleeds, vision loss, high fever, chest pain, or shortness of breath. These symptoms may indicate a medical emergency, such as a stroke.
Differentiating Migraines From Regular Headaches
When looking at the official classification of headache disorders, migraines are considered to be primary headaches. Primary headaches are the ones that don’t have another underlying cause. In other words, the pain itself is the condition.
However, new research has highlighted how migraines are, in fact, a neurological disorder that occurs due to changes in the sensory pathways, blood flow, and chemical reactions in the brain. These changes cause abnormal waves of activity among groups of excitable cells.
This peculiarity is what causes people with migraines to experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and reduced cognitive capabilities. There are also other signs and symptoms that will set a migraine apart from a normal headache (i.e. tension headache):
- The presence of premonitory signs, such as prodrome or aura syndromes
- Sensory, motor, and speech changes
- Inflammation, which leads to an upset gut, as well as sensitivity to light, odors, or sounds
If you are unsure about the type of headache you are experiencing, obtaining an accurate diagnosis is the first step to finding the best line of treatment for your needs.
Prevalence Of Migraines And Their Impact On Daily Life
Occasional headaches affect over half of the world’s population, while nearly a billion people worldwide (39 million in the US) suffer from migraines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25% of adults aged between 18 and 44 suffer at least one severe headache or migraine every three months.
In terms of the impact that migraines have on a person’s life, this condition can bring on a whole host of complications. For example, patients with migraines tend to miss, on average, 4.4 days of work a year due to pain, and they live with a further 11 days of reduced productivity annually. When looking at the financial burden of migraine, patients with this condition report facing annual medical costs as high as $9,500 to manage their chronic pain.
Other complications, which we will examine in more detail below, include sleep disturbances, a higher risk of mental health conditions, and cognitive disorders such as dementia.
It has been seen that around a quarter of chronic migraine cases will go into remission and become episodic, which makes them far easier to manage. Nonetheless, you should not have to endure years of pain and life-limiting symptoms. Finding an adequate treatment plan can help you regain control over your life and support the earlier remission of migraines.
Why Do People Get Migraines?
If you have been diagnosed with a migraine disorder, headache attacks can develop after exposure to certain triggers. The most common triggers include:
- Hormonal changes (specifically the fluctuations of estrogen that occur during events such as pregnancy and menstruation)
- Certain medications
- Drinking alcohol
- High-stress levels
- Skipping meals
- Sleep deprivation
- Environmental factors such as certain foods, flashing lights, and strong odors
It is important to understand that these triggers may start a migraine attack, but they are not the root cause of migraine disorders. To this day, the real causes of migraine aren’t well understood. However, research has shown that a role is played by genetic factors, neurological aspects, medical conditions, and environmental and lifestyle influences.
In the sections below, we’ll look at these aspects in more detail.
Role Of Genetics
Genetics have been seen to be a critical factor in 34-64% of migraine cases. However, understanding how genetics influence the risk of developing a migraine disorder isn’t always straightforward.
According to studies, patients with a first-degree relative with migraine (such as a parent or sibling) are twice as likely to develop this disorder. The reason for this is that genes influence how sensitive people are to changes in the environment and known migraine triggers.
What’s more, a 2023 review shows that hereditary small-vessel disorders can increase the risk of developing migraines. The same study also reports that there are shared genetic factors between migraines and conditions such as depression and high blood pressure. This means that a patient at risk of migraine disorders is also at greater risk of developing these comorbidities.
Impact Of Hormones On Migraines
Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop migraines. One of the main reasons for this is that females experience significant fluctuations in estrogen levels during their lifetimes.
Estrogen is a hormone responsible for enabling and regulating the female reproductive system. While the link between changes in estrogen levels and migraines isn’t fully understood, research has shown that there are mechanisms that can lead to migraine headaches:
- Estrogen can impact the action of serotonin, a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) that influences mood and pain perception.
- Estrogen can cause changes in blood pressure and blood vessels, which have been seen to play a role in migraines.
Estrogen fluctuations can occur due to a wide range of factors, including:
- Using birth control (hormonal) medications
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Gender-affirming surgeries
During these health events, estrogen can suddenly spike or drop, which can lead to the development of a migraine disorder. It has been seen that many women experience menstrual migraines in the days leading up to the menstruation, or within three days after the period starts.
Some of the most influential events associated with migraines include pregnancy and perimenopause.
Migraine headaches are a common type of headache during pregnancy, alongside tension headaches. If you have been diagnosed with a migraine disorder, you are likely to notice an increase in the intensity and frequency of attacks during the first trimester, due to the quickly rising levels of estrogen and the expansion of blood vessels in the brain (due to changes in serotonin levels).
After the third month of pregnancy, these headaches tend to ease down and become less frequent, but you may experience a new onset aura during the second and third trimesters.
Perimenopause And Menopause
Perimenopause is a transitioning period leading up to menopause. It usually occurs in the months or years before your last period. During perimenopause, you are likely to experience spiking and dropping estrogen levels, which are accompanied by symptoms such as high-stress levels, anxiety, lack of sleep, hot flashes, and, as a result, tension headaches.
These symptoms can act as triggers for migraine attacks, making headaches more frequent and intense during this period. Migraines tend to become less frequent or go into remission after menopause.
During these significant changes, it is important to talk to your doctor to find treatment options that will allow you to manage your symptoms more easily.
As we have seen above, migraine disorders are classified as neurological disorders. So, it isn’t surprising that certain neurological factors can influence how likely you are to get migraines.
In particular, neurological changes that may lead to migraines are:
- Changes in blood flow to the brain, or conditions that cause the narrowing of blood vessels
- Altered brain chemistry and pathways
- Incorrect nerve signaling and neurotransmitter imbalances
Conditions that may lead to these changes include:
- Suffering from chronic pain, which over time changes how pain signals are processed in the brain
- Deformities in the shape and size of blood vessels in the brain
- Abnormal pressure in the brain
- Diseases such as stroke, brain tumors, and meningitis
- Inflammatory conditions of the brain
- Traumatic brain injury
Developing migraines can also increase the risk of cognitive disorders, such as an early decline of cognitive abilities, problems with memory and concentration, psychiatric conditions, and dementia.
Cortical Spreading Depression
Cortical spreading depression (CSD) is a condition that causes a wave of sustained depolarization, or the inactivation of neurons. This wave travels through brain tissues and can cause a suppression of brain activity which, in turn, causes changes in the neurons and blood vessels in the brain. Although this disorder is highly complex, it has been seen to be associated with conditions such as seizures and brain ischemia. It is also suggested that CSD represents the underlying mechanism of the migraine aura.
As we explored above, the neurotransmitter serotonin – also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) – may play a critical role in the development of migraine disorders. Serotonin is a chemical messenger that carries messages between the nerve cells in the brain to the nerve cells in the body, and vice-versa.
Although this neurotransmitter plays several roles in the body, it mainly influences functions such as memory, happiness, learning, sexual behavior, hunger, and body temperature. A lack of serotonin is associated with depression, anxiety, and several other health disorders. Serotonin also plays a role in pain perception and vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood vessels).
Studies have highlighted that, among the many neurotransmitters in the brain, serotonin is involved with the activation of the trigeminovascular nociceptive pathway, a pain-signaling pathway composed of blood vessels in the brain and the trigeminal nerve (a nerve that runs across the side of the face). The activation of this pathway can trigger or intensify pain perception.
Effect Of Having Certain Lifestyles
Certain lifestyle factors – as well as drastic lifestyle changes – can lead to the development of migraine disorders. These factors can also become triggers for migraine attacks.
Learning to recognize what your triggers are can help you mitigate the effects of a migraine attack or even interrupt it altogether. You can do so by avoiding your triggers or seeking rescue medications and actions (e.g. rest, relaxation techniques, biofeedback, etc.) after exposure.
Below, we’ll look at some of the main lifestyle factors that may be causing you to have regular headaches.
Stress is a normal part of life. However, if you suffer from chronically high stress levels or you’ve been diagnosed with migraine disorders, this can be a major trigger for recurring headaches.
Studies have shown that, over time, stressors can alter the brain state and increase the excitability of cortical neurons. This can lead to changes in the pathways in the brain, as well as mood and behavior alterations. These changes can impact how well your body adapts to external stimuli, and even a minor stressor can become a trigger for a migraine attack (something that would not happen to migraine-free people).
Many kinds of stress can lead to headache attacks, including having a high-pressure job, enduring long commutes, raising kids, or financial stress. Interestingly, a sudden drop in stress levels (e.g., when you are ready to relax after a tough week at work) can also trigger a migraine.
Some foods can trigger migraine attacks and increase your risk of suffering from recurring migraines. This is due to several factors that may come into play. For example, some foods cause blood vessels to dilate (expand) or restrict, thus changing the blood flow to the brain.
Ingredients, such as food additives, have also been seen to trigger nausea, vomiting, and headaches in people suffering from migraines. Some of the most commonly reported dietary triggers for migraines include:
- Fermented foods
- Pickled foods
- Salty or spicy foods
- Cured meats, aged cheeses, and smoked fish
- Yeast extract
- Food preservatives that contain nitrites and nitrates
- Artificial sweeteners
- Alcohol (especially beer and red wine)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Some vitamins and herbal supplements
- High-sugar drinks
Other important dietary factors that may trigger headaches include skipping a meal and drastic changes in blood sugar levels. You may notice that some foods can trigger a headache right away, while others cause a delayed effect. Additionally, not all the foods seen above will trigger a migraine attack in every person with migraine.
Overconsumption Of Caffeine
Having a cup of coffee each morning can be a nice pick-me-up and a staple in your daily morning ritual. However, consuming too much caffeine – more than 100 mg of caffeine – can be a major trigger for migraines.
Caffeine works by affecting the action of adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical readily available in the brain, responsible for controlling brain electrical activity, blood vessel widening, and functions such as sleep and movement. To manage these aspects, adenosine needs to stick to certain receptor molecules located on the surface of brain cells. Caffeine works by inhibiting the action of these receptors, and, in turn, of adenosine.
This chain of reactions can lead to increased brain activity and the widening of blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to migraines. However, it has been seen that, if you don’t make regular use of caffeine, a strong cup of coffee can also stop a migraine.
It is estimated that over three-quarters of American adults are chronically dehydrated. However, this should not be considered a normal or healthy state of the body. Without adequate hydration, your body is unable to support essential functions, including digestion, immunity, and tissue regeneration. Poor hydration can also lead to disorders such as kidney stones, urinary tract infections, and migraines.
Although it isn’t entirely clear how dehydration can cause headaches, when your body isn’t getting enough fluids, the brain (as well as other tissues in the body) may begin to shrink and pull away from the skull. This undue pressure can lead to a headache.
Irregular sleep patterns or suffering from sleep disturbances and disorders (e.g. insomnia), can lead to more frequent migraine attacks.
For example, waking up often during the night can prevent you from staying for as long as needed in the REM sleep phase. This can increase the levels of certain proteins associated with the development of headaches.
Additionally, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can increase self-reported pain and influence the action of serotonin, which may be involved in the development of a migraine attack. There’s a two-way relationship between sleep quality and migraines: suffering from chronic migraines can deteriorate your sleep quality over time, which makes migraines more likely.
Connection Between Emotions And Frequent Migraines
A study published in 2020 suggests that nearly 80% of people suffering from migraine disorders experience depression at one point in their lives, and they are more likely to suffer from intense anxiety and suicidal tendencies.
The relationship between emotional health and migraines is highly complex. Firstly, it has been seen that some genetic factors increase the risk of migraines, as well as common comorbidities such as depression and anxiety. On the other hand, the pain, reduced productivity, nausea and vomiting, and the fear of experiencing another attack can take a toll on a person’s mental health.
Ultimately, addressing the underlying emotional factors leading to migraine attacks may help you manage the intensity and frequency of headache episodes.
Link Between Gut Health And Long-Term Migraines
To understand how your gut health may cause you to keep getting migraines, it is important to look at the gut-brain axis. This is a bidirectional (two-way) relationship between the gastrointestinal system and the central nervous system (which is composed of the brain and spinal cord).
It has been seen that gastrointestinal disorders such as celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome may increase the risk of migraines. However, today, the mechanics of this interaction aren’t entirely clear.
Hypotheses suggest that the composition of the gut bacteria, as well as inflammation, stress hormones, and nutritional imbalances, may trigger chronic migraine episodes. Additionally, 95% of the serotonin available to the body is produced in the intestine. As we have seen above, this chemical can significantly influence the brain pathways and reactions that lead to migraines.
Poor Sleep Quality
In the sections above, we’ve looked at how irregular sleeping patterns or sleep deprivation can increase your risk of suffering from frequent migraine attacks. This occurs because functions such as sleep, mood, pain perception, and, consequently, headaches are controlled by common chemical brain messengers and regions in the brain.
What’s more, when you are not getting enough sleep, your pain threshold lowers, thus making you more susceptible to painful stimuli. Because of this, up to 75% of people with chronic migraines also suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia.
To break this vicious cycle, follow some best practices to stabilize your sleep patterns. These include:
- Aim to sleep 7-9 hours per night.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
- Keep your bedroom clear of devices that emit noise or light.
- Avoid blue light-emitting devices before bed, as these can influence the production of melatonin (the hormone responsible for inducing sleep).
- Unwind before bed with relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, or self-care actions such as a warm bath.
- Treat any underlying disorder that may be causing sleep disturbances, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
It is important to notice that sleeping too much can also trigger migraines.
Identifying Triggers For Recurring Migraines
Migraine triggers vary from one person to another, and they can even change throughout your lifetime. However, learning to recognize what’s at the root of your headache episodes can help you in two main ways:
- It can help you avoid triggers, thus making headaches less intense and less frequent.
- It can help you seek contingency treatments after exposure, such as getting enough rest, lowering stress levels, and following rescue therapy.
No two people will have the same migraine triggers. However, six of the most common triggers you should learn to recognize include:
- Hormonal changes
- Changes in your sleep patterns
- Lifestyle changes
- Environmental factors
- Physical triggers, such as allergies or dental problems
If you are unsure how to identify your triggers, consider keeping a journal of your migraine attacks. In your journal, you’ll want to record details of your headache, such as premonitory signs (prodrome or aura), intensity, frequency, duration, and relevant aspects, such as how you felt when the attack happened, what you had for dinner, or notable events that happened before your symptoms started.
This journal can help you and your healthcare provider find an adequate treatment to manage your migraine attacks.
Conventional Treatment For Recurring Migraines
Often, the causes and triggers of migraine attacks aren’t well understood. Because of this, patients often resort to conservative lines of treatment that aim to make the symptoms of this disorder more manageable.
These treatment options may do very little to cure or modify your disease, but they can help you in the short term to manage the most severe symptoms of migraine. Some, such as mind-body activities, may also help you better deal with triggers such as stress, sleep problems, and lifestyle changes.
Below, we’ll look at the most common treatment options prescribed to individuals with migraines.
One of the most common lines of treatment for migraines is medications. These can either be preventive or rescue medications, spending on whether they are taken to prevent an attack or reduce the intensity of an ongoing headache.
- Preventive treatments include medications to lower blood pressure, anti-seizure drugs, and antidepressants. These work by managing the blood flow to the brain and the chemical reactions involved with pain perception.
- Rescue treatments are prescribed during an attack, and they often involve pain medications or drugs that temporarily block the pathways in the brain related to pain (triptans). Some medications to treat individual symptoms (such as anti-nausea drugs) may also be prescribed.
It is important to keep in mind that these medications should only be used to manage episodic, less frequent headaches. However, if you have chronic migraines, taking these medications regularly to manage your symptoms can expose you to severe side effects, including an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, kidney dysfunction, stomach ulcers, mood and behavior changes, loss of sensitivity, and, ultimately, tolerance and addiction.
Non-surgical options are alternative treatments that can help you manage the symptoms of migraine disorders. Although these treatments are not always effective, they can help you better deal with triggers and relieve the intensity of a headache attack.
These treatment options include:
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a form of therapy that can help you learn to recognize negative patterns and make positive adjustments in your body, such as improving your breathing, relieving muscle tension, and gaining focus.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture can help ease stress and tension, and trigger the release of hormones, such as endorphins, that induce feelings of well-being.
- Massage therapy. Massages can help you relax and ease muscle tension, thus staying safe from everyday triggers such as high stress levels.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychological therapy that can help you identify your triggers and reduce the intensity of a migraine attack. It has been seen to reduce the severity and frequency of headaches in 30-60% of patients with migraines.
Certain mind-body therapies have been seen to help reduce stress, relieve tension, increase pain tolerance, and boost self-awareness, which is critical to managing how we react to stress and triggers in everyday life. Some of these therapies, which work by improving the interaction between the body and the mind, include yoga, tai chi, Pilates, meditation, praying or chanting, and guided imagery.
In particular, according to studies, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques can efficiently improve disability, boost quality of life and self-efficacy, and reduce pain and depression in people with migraines.
How Neuragenex Helps Manage Pain With Recurring Migraines
Chronic migraines – just like any other chronic pain condition – often stem from systemic inflammation, which has been seen as the root cause of life-limiting disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory diseases, and metabolic dysfunction.
If you are battling systemic inflammation, taking medications to ease your symptoms won’t do much to address the real source of the disease. However, chronic drug use can expose you to significant side effects and risks, which can further compromise your health in the long term.
Nonetheless, there is a way to tackle the systemic inflammation that underlies your chronic pain. Here’s where the new, innovative protocol pioneered by Neuragenex comes in. Through a non-pharmaceutical and non-invasive approach, Neurofunctional Pain Management is designed to ease systemic inflammation, thus reducing pain and life-limiting symptoms.
Although entirely customizable around your own unique health needs and goals, Neurofunctional Pain Management is based on three critical pillars: Electroanalgesia, IV Therapy, and Lifestyle Counseling. Let’s discover these protocols below.
Electroanalgesia involves high-pulse electrical stimulation that targets the intricate connections between pain, the nervous system, and the brain. This non-invasive therapy can intercept pain signals at the nerve’s source, providing relief at a cellular level. By regulating the responses of the nervous system, electroanalgesia has the potential to relieve the painful symptoms of osteoporosis-related microfractures.
At Neuragenex, our protocols utilize specialized intravenous therapy (IV therapy) to support your bone health. This is an efficient approach that delivers important vitamins and minerals directly to the circulatory system, boosting their bioavailability and maximizing their impact. IV therapy aims to alleviate pain by reducing inflammation with immune support and to promote bone health by optimizing the body’s bone remodeling process.
At Neuragenex, we are aware that painful experiences extend to more than just physical symptoms; they also affect your mental health and feelings of well-being. Our team of experts fosters an approach to pain management that encompasses the whole person. To assist people with osteoporosis in making informed lifestyle decisions, we provide individualized lifestyle counseling. We offer advice that includes addressing the strategies that promote bone health and may decrease the progression of osteoporosis, as well as creating a positive attitude about living with this long-term condition.
Our specialized protocols utilize a combination of these innovative Neurofunctional Pain Management techniques to collaboratively address the pain associated with osteoporosis without relying on invasive treatments or prescription medications. We believe it’s essential to find a pain management strategy that best suits you and your lifestyle.
Prevent The Recurrence Of Your Pain From Happening Again
Being diagnosed with chronic migraine disorder can feel like a life sentence. But there is no reason why you should surrender to chronic pain, life-limiting symptoms, and devastating consequences.
Thanks to the innovative treatment approach pioneered by Neuragenex – Neurofunctional Pain Management – you can regain control over your health and your life without medications or surgery.