Drug-Free Migraine Treatment
Could your migraine medication and diet be causing your headaches? Learn about a successful "detoxification" plan that may help you prevent the pain.
Migraine headaches and other symptoms can be treated effectively. The first step is to eliminate headache medications that can worsen the condition.
A migraine becomes active in response to various triggers, such as stress, hormonal fluctuations, sleep disturbances, certain foods and even changes in the weather. This causes headaches of all kinds, including those mild to moderate headaches that tend to be mislabeled as "tension," "stress" or "sinus" headaches. It's a mistake to think of a migraine as one specific type of headache. A migraine can be much more than the stereotypical throbbing headache with nausea, vomiting and inability to tolerate bright light or loud noise.
A migraine involves many parts of the brain, various brain chemicals and, ultimately, the nerves and blood vessels around the head. The more blood vessel swelling and inflammation you have, the worse your headache.
The ideal solution is to prevent migraines by reducing your exposure to triggers, for example, eliminating certain foods or managing stress. Unfortunately, most people try to treat headaches after they occur. If your headaches occur infrequently and respond well to the occasional use of an over-the-counter or prescribed painkiller, that's fine. But for people with frequent or daily headaches, this approach can make a bad situation worse.
The Pitfall of Painkillers: Rebound
Painkillers can create a "rebound" effect. This occurs when the medication you have been taking for your headache wears off. While certain migraine medications relieve the symptoms if you use them occasionally, you may find that you need to use these drugs more frequently and in larger doses to achieve the same relief if you overuse the drugs. As a result, more severe headaches develop.
Many commonly used headache medications are associated with this rebound effect, including:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers that contain caffeine, such as Excedrin
- Butalbital compounds, such as Fiorinal and Phrenilin
- Vasoconstrictors, such as Midrin
- Ergotamines, such as Migranal
- Triptans, such as Imitrex, Zomig and Amerge
- Narcotics, such as codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can cause a rebound, but they do so less commonly than the drugs listed above.
Diet: The Unrecognized Culprit
You can prevent some migraines by avoiding the triggers that cause them. You can't control hormone fluctuations and weather changes, but you can control what you put into your mouth and swallow, such as medications and food and drink. Certain chemicals in food and drink, such as caffeine, tyramine, monosodium glutamate, nitrates, phenols and others, stimulate the migraine control center.
First, however, you have to stop rebounding. If you use any rebound-causing medication an average of three times per week or more, stop taking it. This can be difficult. You may experience more headaches for a few weeks because of withdrawal. Note: Always check with your doctor before you stop taking any prescribed or recommended medication.
Once you have any rebounding problems taken care of, you are ready to start controlling your triggers. Most headache sufferers do not recognize their dietary triggers because the effects can happen a day or more after consumption. Another reason dietary triggers go unrecognized is that they don't always work alone. Each trigger can act in concert with other triggers. Often, the combination of triggers determines whether you will have a headache and how bad it will be on any given day.
For example, one day you may eat chocolate and notice a headache within a few hours. A few days later, you eat chocolate again but don't get a headache. Is chocolate a trigger for your migraine? It's hard to say. Maybe by itself chocolate is fine, but when combined with another trigger, the two items set off a migraine. To help you find your triggers and trigger combinations, many doctors recommend keeping a diet diary. By writing down everything you eat and drink, and tracking when your migraines occur, you and your doctor may be able to pinpoint likely triggers and trigger combinations. Be aware, of course, that other factors come into play, too, such as the weather and your own hormones.