Migraine – a thunderstorm in the head

A migraine or a bad headache – a question commonly asked. So how do you know the difference and what is a migraine?

Migraines are headaches that usually last for much longer than a standard head throb – anything from 4-72 hours, accompanied by nausea and vomiting as well as sensitivity to light or sound. The head pain usually gets worse is the sufferer tries to do any normal activities. Some people get auras – flashing lights, visual disturbances often in the peripheral field of vision and changes in smell. These auras are often the pre-migraine symptom, warning that a migraine is on the way.

There are just under 2 million reported sufferers of migraine in Australia, with the ratio of 1:3, men vs. women. That’s more than those that suffer heart disease or asthma, and very much like asthma, migraine does affect quality of life.

The first stage or early stage of migraine (prodromal stage)

As mentioned above, auras often come as a pre-migraine symptom and affect approximately 25% of migraine sufferers. Other early signs can include:

  • change in mood – feeling full of energy to feeling depressed and grumpy
  • gut symptoms such as changes in appetite
  • cravings for sugar or salt, an upset tummy or constipation
  • drowsiness, lethargy and difficulty focusing
  • excessive thirst, fluid retention or going to the toilet more frequently

The headache

There can sometimes be a gap between the early signs and symptoms and the onset of the headache. Once it arrives it can last from hours to days and is often described as throbbing on one side of the head, made worse by movement, sound, smell and light. It is also often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and an upset stomach.

The end of the ‘migraine attack’ as it’s called, varies from person to person. Sleep often helps as does being sick, but sometimes nothing helps at all except riding it through. Post-migraine sufferers often feel very drained and this may last for 24 hours.

Migraine causes and triggers

Migraine is an interaction between the brain and the blood vessels in the head. Sufferers often find their infliction is a family thing – it is normally inherited.

Triggers can then be dietary, environmental, physical/structural, hormonal or emotional/stress of any kind. Some common triggers in each of these areas are listed below:

Dietary: CaffeineAlcoholInfrequent /missed mealsHistamine foods – old cheeses, chocolate, citrus fruit


Environmental: Bright lights/sunlightStrong smells – perfume, chemicals, petrolWeather changesLoud noises

Over-stimulation – movies, computers

Physical/structural: Lack of sleep/oversleepingIllnessStiff neck/shoulders/jawVigorous exercise
Hormonal: Menstruation/ovulationPregnancyOral contraceptivesMenopause/HRT Emotional/stress: ArgumentsExcitementMuscle tensionRelaxation after a stressful period

Treatment options

There are many options to migraine treatments, many of which don’t involve popping a pain tablet, although this can often be appropriate, especially in the acute phase.

Over-the-counter medications Paracetamol, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Nurofen), anti-emetics
Prescription medications Discuss options with your pharmacist or GP
Natural options Oil Garden Lavender 100 ml – inhaled or applied topically
Oil Garden Peppermint 25 ml– inhaled
Oil Garden Basil– inhaled
Flaxseed Buckwheat Scalp massage
Acupuncture Osteo or chiropractic treatment Meditation and yoga
Preventative treatments Certain prescription medication such as beta-blockers, and anti-depressants – discuss with your pharmacist or doctor 
Feverfew or Butterbur – herbal remedies
Riboflavin (200mg twice day) Magnesium (at least 500mg per day)

CoQ10 (150mg per day)

Relaxation techniques/stress management – yoga, meditation

Structural/postural work – osteo/chiropractic

Dietary changes – identifying triggers and removing them from the diet

Hydration – ensuring adequate fluid intake



Hechtman L, 2014, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Sydney



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